ST. CHARLES TOWNSHIP – A preliminary review shows child abuse and neglect filings were up 85% in 2020 when compared with 2019, Kane County State’s Attorney Jamie Mosser said during a media briefing this week about a preliminary look at the office’s 2020 annual report.
The office filed 110 cases in 2019 and 204 cases in 2020, a difference of 94 cases.
“And this is significant, because when you think about it, for the three months we were in the shut down, schools were going remote and a lot of the DCFS (Department of Children and Family Services) calls that we used to get were from the mandated reporters, which are the teachers,” Mosser said.
“The fact that these cases have spiked up as much as they have just shows the level of what the cases are,” Mosser said Tuesday. “It’s to the point where a unit where we traditionally had two people – and one of those people helped to supervise our juvenile division – we now have three full-time prosecutors in that courtroom alone to deal with the amount and the level of the cases.”
Mosser said she did not know what changed internally at DCFS – whether the murder of AJ Freund in Crystal Lake and its employees being indicted because of it – but “we have a lot more requests to file cases than we ever had before.”
‘A very violent December’
The annual report’s data also shows that in 2019, the office filed 2,604 felony cases and in 2020 it filed 2,418, a difference of 186 or 7.2%.
Also in 2019, the office filed 4,273 misdemeanors and in 2020, it filed 3,690, a reduction of 14% or 538.
The decreases seem to be connected to the state’s two shutdown periods because of the coronavirus pandemic, “but then during the holidays, things spiked up again as they typically do,” Mosser said.
“I am concerned that our misdemeanor domestic violence cases are actually up 3%,” Mosser said. “So in 2019, we filed 995 misdemeanor domestic violence cases. In 2020, we filed 1,026. … If we are numerically low in terms of what we saw in all of our filings, look at how much domestic violence still went up. So I think that’s significant. I think we probably would have seen even more cases – but when you think about it with COVID and people being in the home with their abuser and the stress and the cycle of violence and everything – that is a horrific statistic from my perspective.”
Mosser said she would see if Kane County’s statistics follow a national trend on increased domestic violence reporting.
“Throughout the United States, we had a very violent December,” Mosser said. “We’re at the tail-end of 2020, this awful year that we’ve already had. It’s after and during the holiday season, which puts its own stressors in there. Unemployment rates are high, which means that’s … another stressor that’s in it. … Statistically, I saw a news article about it that showed that it was pretty much happening elsewhere.”
Following up on what she said she would change in the prosecutor’s office during the campaign, Mosser said by February, her office will launch a true vertical model, where domestic violence cases will have a supervisor who oversees all felony and misdemeanor cases.
“The idea obviously is we want to do the best possible prosecution,” Mosser said. “And a person who specializes in domestic violence is going to know the types of motions filed, the law behind it, the peculiarities you have in order of protection statutes. And frankly (it’s) the best way to work with victims, because we don’t want to re-victimize them when they come with us.”
Also in 2020, Kane County had 15 homicide victims, and authorized 12 first degree murder charges against 10 people, with co-defendants, she said. One of the cases was from 2017.
The office authorized involuntary manslaughter charges in two separate cases.
There were two victims killed in domestic-related murder-suicides, and six other cases under investigation, Mosser said.
In 2019, the county had 15 homicide victims as well; in 2018, there were seven, she said.
“Essentially, we believe a lot of this has to be pandemic-related. When you look at each individual case, you tend to see motive,” Mosser said, such as in domestic violence, and gang shootings.
But the office has to look at the cases individually as well, to see if there is some stressor in the community that can be helped
“I’m always concerned about the murder-suicide cases because I always wonder if there were some mental health issues that were going on there. Again, we are coming in after the fact, looking at a motive,” Mosser said. “Can we blame everything on the pandemic? Absolutely not. Do we want to blame everything on the pandemic, yes. We have to do a better job on looking at these individually and reaching out to the community to see what we could do.”
Cash bail, other reforms
Mosser said she supported provisions of House Bill 3653 – which passed the Illinois House Wednesday – which would eliminate cash bail, among other reforms.
“We need to eliminate cash bail at some point,” Mosser said. “I have seen in my career that cash bail can and has affected people who are of lower income.”
She offered an example of two identical theft crimes. One suspect can afford to post bail, the other cannot. The one who cannot post bail is more likely to plead guilty just to get out of jail, where the other defendant has means to fight the charge or get a better offer, she said.
“We need to do better in terms of our system, but my concerns with the way this house bill was drafted, is that the discretion for the judges to look at the severity of the crime and how best to protect the community is severely limited,” Mosser said.
One provision to hold a suspect in jail is if there is an identifiable victim who is in danger. But with a serial arsonist, drunken driver, or gang member, potential victims are random, she said.
“It takes out our ability to really hold somebody who is a danger to our community. I am all for ending cash bail. But I want to be able to do it when we can all get to the table to talk about what is safest for every single community,” Mosser said.
“I am all in favor of more training for police officers. I am all in favor of police departments working on the idea of having social workers and counselors and therapists as a part of their police departments,” Mosser said.
“I truly believe that no police officer wants to go to a scene where somebody is having an episode because of mental health issues, drug addiction issues – because they don’t want to do something that exacerbates the situation,” Mosser said. “I also know that a social worker or psychologist or a therapist doesn’t want to go into a potentially volatile situation by themselves.”
The idea is to create a growing momentum towards police departments and social service agencies working together, “and I’m 100% on board with that,” Mosser said.
Plus, having talked to police chiefs in Kane County, Mosser said that is where they want to go as well.
In terms of the office doing the required expungements for those convicted of having misdemeanor amounts of marijuana – since its decriminalized – Mosser said the office has reached out to Circuit Clerk Theresa Barreiro for assistance.
“Part of what we are supposed to do as state’s attorneys is look at our cases to see if there are ones that we can put on the call to have expunged without people having to file a petition and pay the $200.57 to do all of this,” Mosser said.
Barreiro provided a list of about 435 cases to consider for expungement. Mosser said they’re not automatically expunged, as prosecutors have to look at whether there were violent crimes connected with the possession of marijuana.
“So far the focus has been trying to identify the people so that we can do this as quickly as we possibly can,” Mosser said.