SAVANNA – The Illinois Attorney General’s office has filed a hate crime lawsuit against a Savanna mother and her adult son, accusing them of hanging an effigy of their Black neighbor from a tree near his property, as well as covering their home with swastikas, Confederate flags and a racial slur in retaliation for him reporting her son to police.
Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office said it was the first time his office has filed a hate crime lawsuit.
Cheryl Hampton, 67, now of Streator, and Chad Hampton, 45, now of Victoria, are accused of harassing their neighbor for months in 2020, resulting in several violations of the Illinois Hate Crimes Statute. The lawsuit seeks penalties of at least $100,000.
According to the lawsuit filed in Carroll County Court, the Hamptons are accused of hate crimes against Gregory Johnson, 67, “by lynching an effigy of Johnson in plain view of Johnson’s home in order to intimidate him.”
The life-sized effigy “resembled Johnson by design,” according to the lawsuit.
“I looked out of my new home at a Black-faced mannequin shackled and lynched on a tree branch, [a racial slur] scrawled upon a window, and swastikas,” Johnson said in a news release announcing the suit.
“Our American flag was replaced with their Confederate flag. Have we not come any farther than this? This lawsuit is about tearing off the shackles that still restrain us to this day. It’s about never giving up on the mission of our United States Constitution. We, as a nation, are better than this.”
Raoul filed the lawsuit 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.
The case marks the first time Raoul has utilized expanded authority granted to his office under a 2018 amendment to the Illinois Hate Crimes Act that allows for civil lawsuits against perpetrators of hate crimes, according to the release.
Johnson bought his two-story home on the 300 block of Bowen Street on Oct. 16, 2019. The Hamptons lived next door in a rental.
A little more than 6 months after Johnson moved in, on July 12, 2020, he told police his orange retractable fence was cut in half the day after Cheryl Hampton told him she would tear it down.
Johnson 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 she did not want to live next door to a Black person, according to the lawsuit.
While Nevils 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, Johnson reported Chad Hampton to police after Hampton allegedly sprayed his yard with weed-killer. Johnson took photos of the spraying, according to the lawsuit.
As a result of the yard damage, the 45-year-old Hampton was charged Sept. 22, 2020, with criminal damage to property, a misdemeanor, Carroll County Court records show.
The next day, Hampton spray-painted large black swastikas on a garage that faced Johnson’s home, the lawsuit said. Police visited the home and asked him to remove them.
Chad Hampton was arraigned Oct. 19 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 Johnson’s salt-and-pepper hair, according to the lawsuit. The clothing also resembled clothes Johnson wore, and a large chain bound the head, arms and torso. It was hanged in a tree by a rope noose a few feet from Johnson’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.
The scene, photos of which were filed along with the complaint, was done in retaliation against Johnson, 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. Cheryl Hampton “admitted the display targeted Johnson,” because, she said, they were tired of his complaints against them, according to the lawsuit. She told police she would file a harassment suit against Johnson if his complaints continued.
“Even after authorities asked Cheryl Hampton to move the lynched effigy out of view of Johnson’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 Johnson’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 Johnson’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.
The effigy, which was so heavy and bulky police said they did not believe the 5-foot-2 Hampton could have hung it alone, was removed.
On Nov. 1, 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.
Cheryl and Chad Hampton each is accused in the attorney generals’ 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.
The suit seeks a $25,000 penalty for each count and asks the court to forbid the pair from participating in any similar conduct, including electronically, or from having any contact with Johnson or his property and for any other relief the court deems appropriate.
“The Hamptons intentionally invoked the long, vicious legacy of lynched Black men in America to terrorize Johnson because he is a Black man,” and to stop him from participating in Chad Hampton’s prosecution, Assistant Attorney General Alison V. Hill said in the suit.
“Our complaint alleges the defendants intentionally used the shameful history of lynching and racism in America to terrorize and instill fear in their next-door neighbor simply because he is Black. No one should be subjected to this kind of hate,” Raoul said in the release.
“I am committed to continuing to partner with law enforcement agencies across Illinois to prosecute hate crimes and send a message that hate and bigotry of any kind are not welcome and will not be tolerated.”
Intimidation and disorderly conduct are predicate offenses under the Illinois Hate Crimes Statute, and a 2018 amendment to the law allows the attorney general to sue on behalf of the people of Illinois, “independent of any criminal prosecution.”
On Wednesday, Johnson’s attorney, James Mertes of Sterling, filed an application to intervene in the case, which, if granted, will allow Johnson to personally sue each of the Hamptons for damages.
Johnson’s suit seeks compensatory damages in excess of $50,000, punitive damages to be decided by the court, for civil penalties of up to $25,000 for each for violation of the hate crimes statute, and for court costs and attorney’s fees.
A hearing on the civil suit will be held Sept. 1 before Carroll County Judge John “Jerry” Kane. The criminal cases will proceed once the issue of representation is settled.