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posted: 8/6/2010 12:01 AM

Birkett files fourth lawsuit in 10 years targeting reputed gang members

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  • DuPage State's Attorney Joseph Birkett

    DuPage State's Attorney Joseph Birkett
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer


Several reputed gang members in Addison awoke Thursday to the words, "you've been served."

For the fourth time in 10 years, DuPage County prosecutors are suing alleged gang members for the havoc their crimes inflict on a community.

The suit targets 10 men whom Addison police identified as part of a local street gang responsible for stabbings, beatings, drug deals, graffiti, forgery, intimidation, weapons violations and other crimes.

State's Attorney Joseph Birkett filed suit Wednesday, a decade after he first tested a then never-used 1993 state law that allows authorities to seek such civil remedies.

On Thursday, investigators served copies of the lawsuit to more than half the named parties. DuPage Circuit Judge Kenneth Popejoy is assigned the case.

The first lawsuit in October 1999 targeted a West Chicago gang. The second, filed in October 2006, named members of another gang that operated in Addison and Glendale Heights. The third went after yet another gang with members in Addison and West Chicago.

Police have cited the civil action as one reason for a drop in violent gang crime in their towns.

"I know we're not going to be able to stop all gang activity in this county," Birkett said. "It would be naive to think that way, but you can take a lot of the wind out of their sails. I think a big thing these lawsuits do is send a message to the gang members and community that we're not going to wait until someone else gets shot, robbed or another kid dies of an overdose from drugs peddled by a gang. We're going to continue taking these kind of aggressive steps."

Initially, the first suit did not pass constitutional muster, but a state appeals court gave it a second chance and sent it back to the circuit court judge for further review. In an April 2004 landmark ruling, now-retired DuPage Circuit Judge Edward Duncan banned 19 reputed members of the West Chicago gang from hanging around together, as well as other acts. It was a partial victory, though, because the judge refused to impose the $525,000 in restitution prosecutors sought to recoup police costs.

As with the earlier suits, Birkett wants Popejoy to forbid the defendants from several public activities - many of them legal in normal circumstances - such as public contact, shouting gang slogans or flashing gang signs. The men are subject to contempt charges and fines in addition to standard criminal penalties if they violate the injunction, should one be imposed.

Not everyone agrees such lawsuits are a good idea. Defense attorneys and the American Civil Liberties Union oppose them. The critics argue public order is being enhanced at the expense of individual liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. They worry such rulings could open the door too wide to someday slam shut on the rights of law-abiding citizens.

Similar lawsuits have met with success in California and Texas, and cities such as Cicero and Chicago pursued anti-congregation efforts under local laws. Only Ogle County prosecutors have followed Birkett's lead and filed suit, which often is a labor-intensive process.

Prosecutors in Cook County have resisted the idea, they say, because gangs there are spread over a wide geographic area and would make enforcement too cumbersome.

Most of those targeted in Birkett's first lawsuit hired attorneys and fought the injunction, but many named in subsequent suits did not respond, leading to default judgments being entered against them in court.