Driving SUV through Woodfield about mental health, not terrorism, defense lawyer says

The attorney for a Palatine man charged with driving an SUV through Woodfield Mall is questioning why his client is being held in the Cook County jail without bail after a pretrial evaluation found him unlikely to flee or commit a crime if released.

Javier Garcia, 22, of the 1300 block of North Geneva Drive, faces terrorism and criminal damage to property charges after prosecutors said he caused “mayhem” and hysteria among Woodfield patrons when he crashed the SUV through a Sears entrance on Sept. 20 and drove through portions of the mall. A judge on Sunday ordered Garcia held without bail.

His attorney, Amil Alkass, said Monday that Garcia's case is about mental health and labeled the terrorism charge “overreaching” by prosecutors.

“If a car drives through a store plaza because the person had a medical issue or fell asleep at the wheel, is that person labeled a terrorist?” Alkass said. “Or an old person that hits the gas instead of the brake and plows through the hair salon and damages five stores next to it, is that person charged as a terrorist?”

Garcia was charged over the weekend after his release Friday from Amita Health Behavioral Medicine Institute, where he received treatment after the mall disturbance.

Police said Sunday there is still no clear motive for Garcia's actions and no indication he was targeting any person or particular store in the mall. Prosecutors said Sunday that he caused chaos, and patrons initially believed there was an active shooter in the mall because the shattering glass sounded like gunshots.

But according to Alkass, Cook County's pretrial services division prepared a favorable assessment of his client.

“It's a score from one to five on these scales,” Alkass said Monday. “He tested a 'one,' which is the lowest score for flight risk, and a 'two' for whether any new criminal activity would occur. These are very low scores.”

He said Garcia has a history of mental health problems but is not a danger to the public and belongs at home with an ankle monitor. Jail officials have made assurances that Garcia will be kept in an isolated area, away from the general inmate population, while his health and medication are monitored, Alkass said.

He indicated he will file a court motion asking a judge to amend Garcia's bail, but it is not clear when on decision on that will occur.

Garcia was educated in the Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 system, Director Of Community Relations Tom Petersen confirmed. He attended Palatine High School from 2011 to 2014, then District 211's Alternative Night School program from 2016 to 2018, Petersen said.

Garcia faces 20 years to life in prison if convicted of the terrorism charge, according to county prosecutors. He's accused of causing at least $110,000 in damage to Woodfield.

Garcia is scheduled for an appearance Tuesday at the Cook County courthouse in Rolling Meadows.

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A frame grab from a video by Ronin Diedenhofen shows an SUV going through Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg on Sept. 20. Courtesy of Ronin Diedenhofen
This frame grab from a video by Ronin Diedenhofen shows an SUV going through Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg on Sept. 20. Courtesy of Ronin Diedenhofen
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