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A civil action Aurora sues gang members

Eric J. Amwoza

Eric J. Amwoza

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Updated: July 3, 2012 10:34AM

Aurora police hope civil suits filed against 35 alleged members of the Latin Kings street gang will give them another tool to arrest gang members.

On Tuesday, Kane County prosecutors announced that the city of Aurora has filed civil lawsuits against 35 alleged Latin Kings, seeking financial restitution for police resources used to investigate gang crimes. In a press conference at the Aurora Police Station, Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said the suits target “the worst of the worst,” including men who are in leadership positions within the city’s largest gang.

The suit was filed last Thursday, and Kane County Sheriff’s deputies began serving notice on the defendants the same day.

Although the suit mentions seeking damages, payment is unlikely. Prosecutors are more interested in getting an injunction against the gang members that would prohibit them from meeting with other gang members, owning weapons, drawing gang graffiti, using gang slogans or using gang nicknames. If the injunction is granted, any time a person named in the lawsuit is in public with another gang member, they can be arrested and charged with the misdemeanor offense of unlawful contact with a known street gang member. At the time of an arrest, they could also be searched for illegal drugs or weapons.

“Our goal is to get them to stop their activity,” McMahon said. “I want them to stop this gang activity. I want them to modify their behavior.”

Special prosecutor

Last August, the Aurora City Council voted to use a $60,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to hire a special prosecutor to work on filing civil suits against gang members. At a City Council meeting, Aurora Police Chief Greg Thomas and McMahon praised the move, but there had been no public comment since that meeting.

McMahon said as they began looking at which alleged gang members to focus on, the Latin Kings became the obvious target because they were the largest and most active gang in Aurora. From there, prosecutors narrowed the suits to longtime members. The men sued had been in the Latin Kings for years and many admitted gang membership, McMahon said.

Some of the offenses mentioned in the civil suit go as far back as 1987. All of the men sued were charged with drug offenses or violent crimes.

The men sued are: Jorge “Sharky” Alanis, 37; Jorge “Trips” Alanis III, 21; Juan “Little Sharky” Alanis, 29; Eric “Whitey” Amwoza, 28; Gabriel “Sleepy” Berrios, 21; Jose “King Cosmo” Castillo, 26; Omar “Slomar” Delgado, 32; Orlando “Nandy” Delgado, 31; Oscar “Green Eyes” Delgado, 37; Adan “Shorty A-Town” Elizondo, 27; Eduardo “Big Worm” Elizondo, 36; Jaime “Shorty Jaime” Elizondo, 34; Roger “Sonic” Galvan, 28; Gonzalo “Chalo” Gonzalez, 30; Salvador “Chi” Gonzalez, 25; Ruben “Boy” Hernandez, 34; Enrique “Evil” Jaquez, 33; Charles “Chev” Lantz, 31; Jesse “Hitler” Lopez, 39.

Also: Leonel “Leo” Martinez, 24; Joseph “Humble” Moore, 26; Osbaldo Moreno, 21; Genovevo “Diablo” Nevarez, 37; Juan “Juanito” Ortiz, 30; Sergio “Tarzan” Perez, 20; Christopher “Buckethead” Rosario, 32; Daniel “Danny Boy” Salazar, 32; Gabriel “Salty” Saltijeral, 37; Samuel “Shotgun Sammy” Sanchez, 29; Timothy “Lazy” Schmidt, 30; Jose “Junior” Sosa, 45; Jimmy “Joker” Torres, 37; Jesse “Shaggy” Valenciano-Ortiz, 31; Noel “Toad” Vargas, 29; and Henry Velazquez, 46.

Lantz, Gonzalo Gonzalez and Salvador Gonzalez live in Montgomery. Juan Alanis is in state prison. All the other men live in Aurora.

McMahon said about half of the 35 gang members had been served with injunction papers by Tuesday and police are looking for the remaining men. The civil notices order all the men to appear in court July 10.

Elgin results

This is the first time Aurora has targeted gangs with civil lawsuits, but the suit is similar to one filed in 2010 against 81 men believed to be members of the Elgin Latin Kings.

If the men fail to appear in court, the case can proceed without them and prosecutors can secure the injunction. If the men appear, they can fight the civil suit. In Elgin about half of the men sued never appeared for court, McMahon said.

In the Elgin suit, prosecutors have chosen not to seek financial damages from anyone who agrees to the conditions of the injunction. At least two men have been arrested for violating the terms of that injunction. No money has been collected from any of the 81 Elgin men, McMahon said.

Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda said that suit has helped curb violence in the city.

On Tuesday, Thomas and Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner praised the lawsuits. A series of federal sweeps have helped reduced shootings in the city from nearly one a day in 1996 to 60 last year. Likewise, murders have dropped from 26 in both 1995 and 1996, to two last year.

“Our officers talk about it being boring, yet we still have work to do,” Thomas said.

Facing criticism

The Elgin lawsuits were considered a test of whether a street gang can be brought down by using the civil courts. The suits use the 1993 Illinois Street Gang Terrorism Omnibus Prevention Act, which authorizes seeking financial damages for the violence and property damage caused by gangs. The act says gangs are a clear and present danger to public safety and therefore are not constitutionally protected. The suits have faced criticism as being a back door way to prosecute people for being members of a gang, which is not illegal.

On Tuesday, Aurora defense attorney Liam Dixon said he had already received calls from five former clients who had been served with the notices. Dixon said he respects McMahon’s efforts to rid the community of crime, but believes the civil lawsuits impinge on the men’s rights to free speech and assembly. Dixon said there are already criminal statutes that allow prosecutors to charge gang members with criminal actions, so civil suits are unnecessary.

The Elgin lawsuits faced criticism from some of the defendants, who claimed they were no longer gang members. Some of those men said they had a religious awakening, but were not allowed to speak to groups because of the ban on congregating.

McMahon said his office is not done filing these gang lawsuits and promised to pursue other gangs in other towns.

“We have a responsibility to take whatever lawful action we can to make the community safer,” he said. “We have heard the cries of law-abiding citizens who are tired of the destructive crime in their community, and we will continue to act to support their efforts to return to a community that is safe for everyone.”

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