No charges coming against Joliet mayor as state police release case file on May 31, 2020, incident

Ex-police chief makes allegations against O’Dekirk, mayor calls them lies

State police on Wednesday released their case file on an investigation into Mayor Bob O’Dekirk’s confrontation with two protesters at a Black Lives Matter rally that turned into a riot. However, it appears no charges will be brought from the incident.

Witness interviews offered new details with no consensus on who started the May 31, 2020, melee, although Joliet police on the scene said they did not see what had provoked the confrontation.

O’Dekirk on Wednesday said he has been “cleared of any wrongdoing” and denied allegations made by former Police Chief Al Roechner during interviews with state police that the mayor at one point referred to a group of African Americans as “monkeys” and at another point claimed he could “do anything I want” when the chief tried to keep him away from protesters.

“Roechner has been lying the entire time,” O’Dekirk said.

“It wasn’t his place to give orders to anybody,” Roechner, who retired earlier this year, said of O’Dekirk after he was informed The Herald-News obtained the state police file.

O’Dekirk, a former Joliet police officer, was wearing a Joliet police cap and telling people to go home when he grabbed Victor Williams and pulled him toward police before Williams’ brother Jamal Smith jumped onto the back of the mayor and several police officers dove into the pile, according to a video depiction of the incident and witness accounts to state police.

Williams told state police he was trying to get to his ride away from the scene when O’Dekirk told him to go in another direction and then grabbed him by a shoulder and his face mask before pulling him to the ground where he was struck by a number of police officers.

O’Dekirk told state police that Williams ran at him with clenched fists. O’Dekirk said he grabbed Williams because Williams raised a fist and he believed he was going to be struck.

In the days after the incident, O’Dekirk had said he grabbed Williams because he had been pushed or was about to be pushed. His account to state police gave no indication that Williams had touched him first.

Smith told police he jumped into the scene because he did not know who had grabbed his brother and wanted to protect him. Joliet police said they joined in to protect the mayor.

State police said they formally closed their investigation May 25. They previously had refused to release the case file.

“The Illinois State Police investigators made no recommendations on charging to the special prosecutor handling the case,” Illinois State Police Sgt. Delila Garcia said. “As in any investigation, the prosecutor has the ultimate decision on what charges will be made, if any.”

Garcia said the case no longer was sealed and directed further questions to Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow’s Office. Glasgow’s spokeswoman, Carole Cheney, did not respond to a call and message about the case. Patrick Delfino, director of the Illinois State’s Attorney Appellate Prosecutor’s Office, and Tom Brown, a special prosecutor for the office, similarly did not respond to calls and messages about the case, nor did Will County Chief Judge Dan Kennedy.

The Will County State’s Attorney’s Office has refused to say whether it would pursue charges, pointing to a court-ordered seal placed on the case.

“I’ve been told I’ve been cleared of any wrongdoing,” O’Dekirk said.

Lawrence X. O’Reilly, an attorney for Williams and Smith in a civil case against O’Dekirk, the city and police officers involved in the incident, said he recently received the state police case file with a cover letter stating prosecutors would not pursue criminal charges against the mayor although they did not condone his conduct.

The letter was not included in the case file released to The Herald-News. O’Reilly said he could not provide a copy of it because of a court order barring release of documents obtained in the civil case.

“I had to laugh when I read it,” O’Reilly said. “I don’t know how a civilian can walk around with something that says police on it and tell people where they can and cannot go.”

Roechner told state police that he had advised O’Dekirk after the scuffle not to get physically involved with people because he was not a police officer and that the mayor responded, “I am the mayor; I can do whatever I want.”

Roechner also said that he was walking with O’Dekirk later in the 100 block of Wilcox Street and passed a yard in which several African Americans were standing when the mayor said, " (Expletive) you monkeys.”

Roechner told state police that he did not believe anyone else heard the comment, and O’Dekirk Wednesday called it “a complete lie.”

“He’s a disgraced former chief,” O’Dekirk said. “Whatever lies he wants to make up about me are to make up for his own wrongdoing that night.”

Roechner has not been accused of any wrongdoing concerning the events of that night that included looting at area stores and vandalism that led to a fire at a small grocery store.

He and the mayor clashed several times during Roechner’s two years as police chief.

The interviews with witnesses produced a handful of accounts of what happened between Williams and O’Dekirk.

Several police officers said they did not see what provoked the incident. One person at the scene said the mayor grabbed Williams. Another said it started when Williams pushed the mayor.

Williams and Smith were arrested at the scene, although prosecutors later dropped charges.

Shortly before the incident between the two brothers and the mayor, O’Dekirk had pointed out another man at the scene whom he believed had a gun.

Joliet Police Sgt. Mark Lauer told state police that he did a pat-down search of the man who appeared to be concealing something. However, the man had no weapon and was released.

Events depicted in a video of the altercation, which was uploaded to YouTube, were described in the state police file.

“O’Dekirk grabs Williams near the chest area of the jacket,” according to the police file, and the video then “shows O’Dekirk, while he still holds Williams, spin and push him to his (O’Dekirk) left.”

The video does not show, and the state police description of the video makes no mention of, Williams running at O’Dekirk or raising a fist.

“To me, the video speaks for itself,” Roechner said. “And what would happen if it wasn’t the mayor?”

Bob Okon

Bob Okon covers local government for The Herald-News

Felix Sarver

Felix Sarver covers crime and courts for The Herald-News