Plainfield park commissioner on trial for alleged battery of political foe

by Jeff Tomczak

A mysterious man dressed all in black and a Joliet firefighter allegedly engaged in a confrontation over political signs for a state Senate race on the eve of the Nov. 6 election.

It boiled over, ending with a third man — Peter Steinys, a campaign worker who months later was elected to the Plainfield Park District Board — being charged in Plainfield with a local ordinance violation of battery.

Steinys later helped install the candidate he was backing, Garrett Peck, as the Plainfield Park District’s new executive director.

This episode of local political intrigue made its way Tuesday to Will County Judge Joseph Polito, who began to sort it all out during a bench trial for Steinys at the branch court in Plainfield.

Steinys’ attorney, Ragan Freitag, said her client was acting in self-defense, as well as trying to defend another person and his property.

According to Tuesday’s testimony, volunteers for Peck and fellow state Senate candidate Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant put out campaign signs near Feeney Road and Route 59 in Plainfield the night before the election.

Michael Carlin of Morris — a Joliet firefighter who said he volunteered to work for the campaign of Tarrant, the eventual winner — testified that he put out pro-Tarrant signs there about 10 p.m. so voters would see them early on Election Day.

He said he returned to the intersection about 11:30 p.m. to check on the signs, and found they had been cut with a knife and tossed into a nearby field. By the light of vehicle headlights on Route 59, he noticed a man wearing all black lying in a ditch on the other side of the road, Carlin testified.

“He was lying there in wait, obviously,” Carlin said.

Carlin crossed the road to confront the man, and told him that only Tarrant’s campaign had permission to put signs there, Carlin testified.

The man in black, whom Carlin said seemed intoxicated, cursed at him and told him they had permission to put Peck’s signs there, too. Carlin testified that he cursed at the man and went back across the street to call a campaign manager.

From his vantage point, Carlin said, he saw the man in black walk toward a white Volkswagen parked near the intersection. Once Carlin confirmed that Tarrant’s campaign had permission to put signs in the field, he walked back across the street toward the car to confront the man again, he testified.

Carlin said he stood by the driver’s side window and “air knocked,” then pantomimed rolling down the car window. Carlin said he told the man in the driver’s seat — who he later found out was Steinys — to remove the signs, and added that he wasn’t looking for trouble and had just had shoulder surgery.

Carlin testified that Steinys then shoved open his car door, hitting Carlin, and said, “I’m sick of this (expletive). Don’t (expletive) with me, I’m going to (expletive) kill you.”

Steinys allegedly grabbed Carlin by the arms, and Carlin twisted away and began to run, he testified.

“I could hear him running after me, still swearing, announcing how he was going to kick my (expletive),” Carlin testified.

Steinys gave up the chase at the urging of the man in black, Carlin said. Meanwhile, Carlin called 911, as well as Tarrant campaign manager Glen Marcum, he testified.

Carlin asked Marcum to come to the scene, because, he said, “I was by myself, and I didn’t feel safe.”

Marcum testified that Carlin was very upset and shaking when Marcum arrived.

When Carlin described the vehicle and told Marcum the license plate number, Marcum knew immediately whom Carlin was dealing with, Marcum testified.

Tarrant campaign workers were familiar with Steinys and his vehicle because of “previous issues” with him during the campaign, the men said.

“It didn’t surprise me,” Marcum testified. “I knew exactly who he was referring to.”

Under cross-examination, Carlin said he did not see anyone tearing up Tarrant’s signs. He also said Steinys never actually hit him.

Freitag did not get the chance to begin her case defending Steinys, as Polito continued the trial to 1 p.m. Aug. 5.

The Tomczak Law Group