Republican Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica was charged Sunday with destroying his Democratic rival's campaign signs, but Peraica says he was doing nothing more than driving through the town where his opponent is mayor.
Peraica was taken into custody by McCook police Saturday night after his arrest near the 8400 block of West Joliet Road in McCook. He was charged with criminal damage to property, a misdemeanor. He was released on a $1,500 bond at 1:30 a.m., police said.
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He has a Nov. 22 court date in Bridgeview.
Peraica says police were acting at the behest of McCook Mayor Jeff Tobolski, who is locked in battle with Peraica for a seat on the 16th District seat on the county board in Tuesday's election.
Reached Sunday, Peraica said he was just trying to replace his own signs that had been stolen, that McCook police followed him and pulled him over without provocation when he entered McCook. "What happened here is one of the worst abuses of police authority that I have seen in my time."
But McCook Police Chief Frank Wolfe said the facts are clear: Peraica had entered private property and destroyed a sign. Wolfe said that at 11 p.m. McCook police were told by police in neighboring Stickney that one of its officers had pulled over and warned the occupants of a White Chevy van after receiving reports of political signs being destroyed.
"They warned us about this white Chevy van going around, and subsequently my officers were on the lookout for this van, in case it came into McCook," Wolfe said.
At about 11:15 p.m., Wolfe said, an officer saw a white Chevy van pulling out of a home's driveway on Joliet Road. Police stopped the van, which carried two occupants, including Peraica, who was a passenger.
When asked what they were doing, they said they were putting up Peraica signs.
"But yet there were no Tony Peraica signs posted in the area," Wolfe said. "It raises suspicion. So he asked them if they were going about destroying Tobolski signs."
After they denied destroying signs, another officer checked on the front lawn of the residence the van had exited and found a Tobolski sign cut in half and knocked down, Wolfe said.
Wolfe said the owner of a business a block away said the signs on his property also had been destroyed. His upstairs tenant identified the white Chevy van in connection with the incident, Wolfe said.
Peraica insists, however, that police followed the van. "They trailed us for about half a mile, three quarters of a mile, stopped us without any cause or reason, searched the vehicle without any cause or reason, finding nothing, and then proceeded to arrest me on a trumped-up charge that has no basis in fact, just to exact political revenge or cause embarrassment."
Peraica denied destroying property. He said the van was traveling from Stickney to Willow Springs along Joliet Road. "As soon as we entered the town of McCook, a marked police vehicle started following us."
After the stop, Peraica said, police asked the driver to open the back door of the van.
Peraica said the van contained his signs that were going to replace signs that had been removed by his opponent's supporters.
"Several other vehicles arrived," Peraica said. "There were three total police cars."
Peraica said that the police officer who stopped the van was apologetic and was willing to let Peraica and the driver go, after seeing nothing suspicious in the vehicle.
But Peraica said that officer was overruled by a superior officer.
"A sergeant came on and said, 'Oh, no. This is Peraica, and we're going to arrest him for damage to property,'" Peraica said. "And then a third vehicle came with a male in his late 40s, early 50s, naked, just with jeans on, No shoes (or) socks, no shirt. Literally with just jeans on.
"(He said), 'Yeah, that's the guy I saw,' pointing to me, 'damaging my cardboard sign.' Then they cuffed me and took me to the station."
Peraica said he was kept in the station until nearly 3 a.m. Sunday, not the 1:30 a.m. reported by police.
"I mean if they can do this to a commissioner, abusing their police authority, can you imagine what they can do to somebody else?" Peraica asked.
In a statement, Tobolski said, "I was shocked when I heard the news late last night. This clearly is the erratic behavior of a desperate man. This just goes to show you the length that Tony Peraica will go to steal an election. The voters of the 16th District have to see that he is unfit to serve in any public office."
Peraica, who said he never before has been arrested, predicted, "This is going to be laughed out of court, because the charges are bogus and without any basis."