La Salle County joins lawsuits to halt SAFE-T Act

‘This is not what Illinois needs,’ state’s attorney says of SAFE-T Act

La Salle County has joined a broad effort by state’s attorneys in Illinois to block or halt the SAFE-T Act, the disputed police reforms enacted last year.

Wednesday, La Salle County State’s Attorney Joe Navarro and Sheriff Adam Diss announced the filing of a lawsuit in La Salle County Circuit Court to prevent numerous law enforcement changes from taking effect Jan. 1.

The lawsuit, Navarro said, will be substantially similar to dozens of others — he anticipated up to 90 filed by fellow state’s attorneys, Democrat and Republican — filed to thwart the SAFE-T Act.

“This is not what Illinois needs and it’s not what La Salle County needs,” Navarro said.

“Both the sheriff and I, and every law enforcement officer and all my assistants take an oath to protect the people of La Salle County, and this is going to make it extremely, extremely difficult to do.”

Among the specific provisions Navarro and Diss hope to halt are:

  • Limiting or ending qualified immunity: Police are largely immune from being sued for doing their jobs and the SAFE-T Act threatens to undermine that protection
  • Fleeing suspects must let go: Police are constrained, in many situations, from pursuing a suspect who tries to escape capture
  • No cash bonds: Suspects would be released from custody without having to post bond for numerous felony offenses

“This is a horrible piece of legislation that will immediately make our La Salle County residents less safe by putting criminals that should be in jail back on the street,” Diss said. “There’s a reason that law enforcement and 100 of 102 state’s attorneys opposed this legislation.

“We currently have 124 people in custody today in the La Salle County Jail, and I believe that number would be closer to 40 — definitely less than 50 — if this law were in effect today.”

Navarro said the legislation was initially well-intentioned and limited in scope, but soared from 60 pages to more than 700 as lawmakers adopted sweeping changes to 265 parts of the criminal code.

Navarro thinks the SAFE-T Act is flat-out unconstitutional but he’s particularly troubled by requirements that suspects charged with serious offenses must simply be let go. These include aggravated DUI, filed when a drunk driver hurts or kills another motorist, and public indecency, when a suspect exposes himself in a public setting.

“In most cases, barring some extremely violent offenses, the defendant will be released with a court date — no bail,” he said.

He also questions a pre-trial screening process to determine risk of flight. La Salle County is participating in a pilot program and has implemented such screening, and already officials are troubled by the results.

La Salle County Sheriff Adam Diss said he was disappointed in Friday’s Illinois Supreme Court ruling.

A Streator man charged with attempted murder improbably scored well enough to warrant reduced bond despite his worrisome criminal history and the 40-year minimum he faces if convicted of shooting at an agent of the drug task force.

“I don’t know how you justify that formula,” Navarro said, adding later, “This certainly is not the type of person you want back out on the street.”

Navarro encouraged concerned residents to contact their lawmakers and ask them to support pending legislation to reverse the SAFE-T Act. Nevertheless, Navarro isn’t betting on the statehouse to answer the call and wants a judge to rule on the constitutionality of the act and keep it from taking effect.