The Kane County state's attorney's office has filed a lawsuit against 35 members of the Latin Kings who reside in Aurora, seeking to hold gang members accountable for past violence and give police another tool against organized crime.
After the lawsuit was filed Thursday, Aurora police officers and Kane County sheriff's deputies began serving defendants with the suit and a summons to appear July 10 before Judge Thomas Mueller.
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The lawsuit seeks to prevent the defendants from loitering together in public, possessing weapons or drugs, vandalizing surfaces with graffiti, showing gang signs, wearing gang colors or even being present in certain parts of town. Once the lawsuit becomes a verified complaint, if police find a gang member violating its terms, they can take action.
"We expect that this injunction will significantly diminish the gang's criminal activity by stopping the Latin Kings' ability to freely operate within the Aurora community," Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon said.
McMahon called the gang members targeted in the suit "the worst of the worst in Aurora." A list of their previous convictions for crimes such as first-degree murder, unlawful delivery of a controlled substance, mob action and aggravated discharge of a firearm takes up 12 pages of the 18-page lawsuit.
Aurora police Chief Greg Thomas said violent crime in Aurora has decreased since its peak in 1996, when there were 357 reports of shots fired and 26 murders. By 2011 those numbers dropped to 60 instances of shots fired and two murders, but Thomas said work remains to be done.
"When these violent crimes are reduced, police have more time to devote to other crimes like burglaries and theft," he said.
Targeting gang members through the civil suit will help the city move further away from its previous image as an unsafe place, Mayor Tom Weisner said.
"The initiative announced today is another tool our police officers can use to help ensure the city is safe from the violence of street gangs," Weisner said.
Ross Bartolotta, a special assistant state's attorney hired with $60,000 in federal grant money, spent several months researching gang members' history of criminal activity to determine whom to sue first.
If defendants or their lawyers show up to their court dates, each case will go through a discovery process and trial to determine if the defendant will be prohibited from associating with other gang members. If a defendant doesn't show up, McMahon said the gang member automatically will be held to the regulations of the injunction.
Violating the injunction could result in contempt of court or a misdemeanor charge punishable with up to a year in county jail and up to $2,500 in fines.
The lawsuit filed against Latin Kings members residing in Aurora isn't the first of its kind. Kane County sued about 80 members of the Latin Kings in Elgin in 2010, and the DuPage County state's attorney's office has sued gang members four times since 1999, targeting groups that operated in Addison, Glendale Heights and West Chicago.
"We did this again here in Kane County for one reason: We have a responsibility to take whatever lawful action we can to make this community safer," McMahon said. "This lawsuit, which is a proven proactive tool, is another step in that direction."