Monday will mark a year since a skirmish between Mayor Bob O’Dekirk and two protesters at a Black Lives Matter rally in Joliet sparked an investigation that started with a promise of transparency but remains cloaked in secrecy.
The brawl involving the mayor occurred as a demonstration was being broken up after many of the protestors had become unruly, throwing objects at police and spilling onto Jefferson Street. The night would get worse with looting and vandalism that stretched to the Louis Joliet Mall and other shopping centers, while a family grocery store on the near West Side was set on fire.
But whether the mayor was an instigator or a victim in his encounter with the two protesters is a question that authorities have never clarified despite a state police investigation into the matter.
The report on that investigation has been put under a court seal, making it impossible for even attorneys for the two protesters to see and giving authorities a basis for refusing to comment on what if anything was turned up in the probe.
“I don’t even know who they spoke to,” said attorney Lawrence X. O’Reilly.
O’Reilly represents Victor Williams and Jamal Smith, two brothers who were the protesters involved in the melee with the mayor and are suing O’Dekirk and the city, alleging that he started the fight and that they were roughed up as several police jumped in to finish it.
“I know they spoke to my clients,” O’Reilly said, adding that Williams and Smith cooperated in the state police investigation. “But I don’t know if they spoke with the mayor.”
Williams and Smith were among 30 people arrested that night.
But the case against them weakened with video being made public that appeared to show O’Dekirk was unprovoked when he grabbed Williams and began forcefully pulling him away as Smith ran after them and jumped onto the mayor before police piled in.
O’Dekirk has contended that he was pushed before he grabbed Williams.
Their lawyers have repeatedly said that Williams and Smith had no idea who O’Dekirk was and that Smith jumped in to protect his brother.
On July 2, the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office dropped charges against Williams and Smith without explaining why.
At that time, O’Reilly expressed confidence in the state police investigation, an opinion that since has changed.
“I’m not too happy with the state police because I think they did a few things underhanded,” O’Reilly said.
O’Reilly contends a supervisor in the investigation stalled a federal subpoena for a copy of the report of the findings. Then, when he pressed her for the report, he was told the case had been sealed and he could not see it.
No notice was given to him when a hearing was held to seal the report, O’Reilly said. He doesn’t even know when it was sealed.
“Somebody made the request to seal, and they didn’t give anybody notice,” O’Reilly said. “They were aware that we had an interest.”
Who participated in the sealing is a matter of guesswork because the case has basically become invisible.
State police who said they could not comment on the investigation while it was ongoing now say they can’t comment because the case has been sealed. The state’s attorney’s office and court officials point to the court seal and decline to comment
“The matter is under seal and unfortunately, I cannot comment on it,” Will County State’s Attorney Chief Deputy Ken Grey said.
State’s Attorney James Glasgow did not return calls seeking comment.
But three days after the incident as the video surfaced showing the mayor’s encounter with the two protesters, Glasgow issued a written statement promising justice and an independent investigation.
“The Joliet Police Department agrees and is requesting that the Illinois State Police conduct the investigation to avoid any potential conflicts of interest and ensure a completely transparent process,” Glasgow’s statement said. “As our nation works to mend in the aftermath of George Floyd’s tragic murder, the State’s Attorney’s Office is committed to guaranteeing justice and absolute integrity in its review of this and all matters.”
O’Dekirk has talked about May 31 at length when giving his state of the city speeches this year, referring to the looting and police efforts to control the chaos that night and never mentioning his incident with Williams and Smith.
Asked this week to comment on what happened between him and the two protesters, O’Dekirk said, “I’m happy that we haven’t seen the violence that occurred that night, and I hope we never see it again.”
Warren Dorris was among a group of Joliet pastors who called on the mayor to resign after the May 31 incident. A former city councilman, Dorris ran unsuccessfully for one of the three City Council seats in the April election.
Dorris said this week that he has given up his fight with O’Dekirk on the May 31 issue. But he said people should know what’s in the state police report.
“I have no confidence in the system anymore,” Dorris said. “We know the report is finished, and the state’s attorney is sitting on it.”
Dorris does not believe O’Dekirk will ever face any charges for the May 31 incident.
Neither does O’Reilly.
“It seems pretty clear if they sealed it and they closed it that they aren’t going to bring charges against the mayor,” O’Reilly said.
O’Dekirk, asked if he believed any charges would be brought against him, said, “Talk to the state police.”