Calling it a "strong tool" to combat gangs, McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi announced Tuesday that his office and the city of Harvard have sued five men they say are Latin Kings members in an effort to stop them from gathering and owning guns and otherwise engaging in criminal activity.
"This initiative seeks to destroy the infrastructure of the gang and promote zero tolerance of gang-related activity," Bianchi said in a prepared statement. He was not available for further comment.
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The suit, filed under the 1993 Illinois Street Gang Terrorism Omnibus Prevention Act, seeks to classify the Latin Kings as members of a street gang and prohibit them from meeting or associating with each other.
It's a tactic that's been used before, in a joint suit between Kane County and Elgin.
Five Harvard residents -- Antonio M. Figueroa, 29; Alfredo Garcia-Castillo, 21; Justin Pena, 27; Genaro Pena, 29; and Spencer M.L. Ortiz, 21 -- were named as defendants, along with "other unnamed Latin King members."
Donna Kelly, chief of the McHenry County state's attorney's office's civil division, said everyone except Genaro Pena had been served with the lawsuit.
"The whole purpose of the lawsuit is to curtail gang recruitment and to keep the community safe," Kelly said. "We're hoping this does have a deterrent effect. Is it going to cease gang activity altogether? No."
Kelly said other defendants could be added to the lawsuit if they commit two gang-related criminal offenses -- including a forcible felony -- within a five-year span.
Kelly said prosecutors worked with Harvard police for more than six months before filing Tuesday's lawsuit. She said the General Assembly recognizes the dangers posed by gangs and gave prosecutors another tool besides prison time to fight them.
"You can send them away to prison, but eventually they get out," Kelly said.
The parties in the suit, which also seeks more than $50,000 in damages, are due in court June 15.
Harvard Police Chief Dan Kazy-Garey declined to comment on Tuesday's lawsuit, saying it was pending litigation.
Since 1994, Harvard has had its own gang ordinance that levies a $400 minimum fine for people who wear gang colors or flash gang signs, according to the city's website.
Kazy-Garey said the department seeks to educate the parents of juveniles who may have joined or are being sought by gangs and that Tuesday's lawsuit was one more way to fight gangs.
"Our philosophy is zero tolerance toward gang activity," Kazy-Garey said. "We're big on educating the parents of juveniles that become involved (with gangs). That's of the utmost importance so they have an understanding and maybe change their children's activity."
In fall 2010, then-Kane County State's Attorney John Barsanti and the city of Elgin announced they were suing some 81 Latin King members by also using the Illinois Street Gang Terrorism Omnibus Prevention Act.
At least 30 have settled on that case, agreeing they won't associate with other gang members.
Four men are trying to get removed from the lawsuit, claiming a ban would infringe on their freedom of speech and religion as they go to speak about the dangers of gangs. The men also say they are not in the gang now or never were in the gang. Their case is due in court later this month.