Ex-Savanna woman gets 3 years in prison for harassing witness in race-based case

Cheryl Hampton also is defendant in state’s 1st civil hate-crime suit for related actions

Cheryl Hampton

MOUNT CARROLL – A former Savanna woman who pleaded guilty March 1 to harassing a witness has been sentenced to three years in prison, according to court records.

Cheryl Hampton, 69, of Rock Island, was sentenced April 26 after losing a bid to withdraw her guilty plea and proceed to a jury trial. Hampton and her son, Chad, both were criminally charged in Carroll County court in 2020 in connection with claims made by a Black neighbor that the mother-son duo had been harassing him.

Chad Hampton, 47, was charged with criminal damage to property, a misdemeanor that accused him of knowingly damaging the neighbor’s lawn by spraying it with weed killer. During a bench trial in February, presiding Judge Jerry Kane found Chad Hampton not guilty of knowingly damaging the lawn.

Cheryl Hampton pleaded guilty shortly after her son was found not guilty, but then decided to file a motion seeking to withdraw her plea.

According to the April 1 motion, Cheryl Hampton said she pleaded guilty only “to protect her son from prosecution, who was the actual instigator and facilitator of the above-described offense of witness intimidation. ... The defendant does not wish to take responsibility for this offense, since she had no involvement in the placement of the Black effigy or the racist and derogatory language displayed on her home, [which] she was sharing with her son.”

Kane on April 10 denied Cheryl Hampton’s motion to withdraw her plea. She was supposed to be sentenced April 17, but the hearing was reset for April 26 at the request of the defense and over the objections of State’s Attorney Aaron Kaney. After her sentencing, she again filed a motion to withdraw her guilty plea and have her sentence reconsidered.

The duo’s alleged harassment is detailed in the state’s first civil hate-crime lawsuit, filed in 2022 by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office, that accuses the Hamptons of lynching an effigy of the neighbor in plain view of his home in order to intimidate him.

In addition to accusations that the yard was damaged, the suit also alleged that the pair hung an effigy of their neighbor, bound in chains, in a tree a few feet from his property, hung a Confederate flag, displayed a racial slur in a window facing his home, and painted swastikas on their garage, which also faced his property.

According to the lawsuit, the neighbor bought his two-story home in the 300 block of Bowen Street on Oct. 16, 2019. The Hamptons lived next door in a rental. A little more than six months after the neighbor moved in, on July 12, 2020, he told police that his orange retractable fence was cut in half the day after Cheryl Hampton told him she would tear it down. The neighbor erected the fence after noticing damage he thought was caused by a riding lawnmower coming onto his property, he told police.

Savanna police Lt. Daniel Nevills responded to the home, where Cheryl Hampton used a racial slur and told Nevills that she did not want to live next door to a Black person, according to the lawsuit. While Nevills and Hampton were talking, Chad Hampton walked to the front of their yard and raised a Confederate flag on their flagpole, according to the lawsuit.

Later that day, the neighbor reported Chad Hampton to police after Chad allegedly sprayed his yard with weedkiller. The neighbor took photos of the spraying, according to the lawsuit. As a result of the yard damage, Chad Hampton was charged in September 2020 with criminal damage to property, a misdemeanor, Carroll County court records show. The next day, Chad Hampton spray-painted large black swastikas on a garage that faced the neighbor’s home, the lawsuit alleged. Police visited the home and asked him to remove them.

Chad Hampton was arraigned Oct. 19, 2020, on the misdemeanor, and the effigy appeared less than a week later. It bore a mask painted black and had a curly black wig with patches of white, altered to resemble the neighbor’s salt-and-pepper hair, according to the lawsuit. The clothing also resembled clothes the neighbor wore, and a large chain bound the head, arms and torso. It was hung in a tree by a rope noose a few feet from the neighbor’s property, according to the lawsuit. The Hamptons also allegedly wrote a racial slur on their window in black marker, draping a Confederate flag behind it, according to the lawsuit.

The scene, photos of which were filed along with the complaint, was created in retaliation against the neighbor, who had contacted Savanna police repeatedly about other “aggressive actions” by the Hamptons, according to the lawsuit.

Savanna police visited the Hampton home again Oct. 26, 2020. Cheryl Hampton admitted that the display targeted the neighbor because, she said, they were tired of his complaints against them, according to the lawsuit. She told police that she would file a harassment suit against the neighbor if his complaints continued. Even after authorities asked Cheryl Hampton to move the lynched effigy out of view of the neighbor’s home, or to at least change its appearance, she refused, according to the lawsuit.

The next day, Nevills and then-Mayor Chris Lain went to the Hamptons’ home to discuss the hanging figure. Cheryl Hampton told them that she was tired of the neighbor’s complaints, angry that her son had to take a day off work to attend court, that the figure was a “Halloween decoration” that she had hung herself and that she would not move it out of the neighbor’s view, according to the lawsuit.

Nevills offered to get white paint and a white wig and repaint the figure. According to the lawsuit, she refused the offer. Cheryl Hampton was arrested and charged later that day with harassing a witness, a felony that carries three to seven years in prison if convicted.

The effigy, which was so heavy and bulky that police said they did not think the 5-foot-2 Hampton could have hung it alone, was removed. On Nov. 1, 2020, a few days after his mother was charged, Chad Hampton called Savanna police seeking to file an official complaint for damage to his property because police cut down the effigy, according to the lawsuit.

Raoul’s office filed the lawsuit in May 2022 in Carroll County court after an investigation by his office’s Civil Rights Bureau with assistance from the Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office, the city of Savanna and the Savanna Police Department.

Cheryl and Chad Hampton each are accused in the attorney general’s civil suit of two counts of commission of a hate crime by intimidation and two counts of commission of a hate crime by disorderly conduct. A 2018 amendment to state law allows the attorney general to sue on behalf of the people of Illinois, “independent of any criminal prosecution.”

A case management conference on the civil lawsuit is set for May 23.

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Charlene Bielema

Charlene Bielema

Charlene Bielema is the editor of Sauk Valley Media.