Ex-Bear lineman acquitted of charges he ran fight ring at youth prison in St. Charles

A former Chicago Bears offensive lineman who became a guard of a different sort after his pro football career ended was acquitted this week of charges he ran a fight ring among detainees at a state youth prison in St. Charles.

Johan Asiata - who spent 2009 and 2010 with the Bears before he was cut in 2011 - was found not guilty Tuesday of official misconduct, aggravated battery and unlawful restraint.

Kane County Judge David Kliment issued the not guilty verdicts for Asiata and two co-workers at the Illinois Youth Center - St. Charles. The facility is a medium-security detention center for boys.

Johan Asiata

“Johan and I and his family are elated with the verdict,” his attorney, David M. Smith of Chicago Trusted Attorneys, told us. “He is a loving, kind, generous husband and father and member of the community, and has always wanted to put others first.”

Smith said he and Asiata have not discussed whether the former NFL player wants to return to work at the detention center.

According to Smith, the case showed the state provided inadequate training for IYC guards and inconsistency in enforcing standards of conduct for those workers. “They (Asiata and the two co-defendants) did their best,” he said.

Asiata, 35, Andre McFarland, 35, and Elliot Short, 39, were accused of encouraging detainees to beat and rob each other in January 2016 and of standing idly by during the attacks, according to authorities.

One former detainee testified Asiata and other guards would use him and other detainees as an enforcement crew, sending them to discipline other detainees who had broken rules.

When we first wrote about the case, we noted Asiata had attended a school for at-risk youths, run by the Hawaii National Guard. In a 2007 interview with the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, he credited football with taking him away from “knucklehead” life on the streets of Honolulu. The 6-foot, 4-inch teen went on to become the starting right tackle at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and joined the Bears as an undrafted free agent in 2009.

Fourth defendant

A fourth man charged in the Illinois Youth Center case - who authorities allege was the ringleader - awaits trial. Michael Klimek's jury trial was supposed to start Thursday afternoon, but Kane County is not holding jury trials because of the pandemic. His case was rescheduled to Oct. 21. He faces 76 felony counts.

Case update

Earlier this month, we wrote about future DuPage County jail inmate Christine Finnigan's filing a lawsuit against Sheriff James Mendrick because she believed she would not receive her prescribed methadone treatment when she starts a 60-day sentence for drunken driving.

DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick

Finnigan, 53, wanted a federal court to order that Mendrick allow her to continue taking methadone, which she's used for 1½ years to combat an opioid addiction.

On Wednesday - a day before Finnigan was set to turn herself in - U.S. District Court Judge Steven Seeger threw out the lawsuit, ruling it was too soon to make a judgment.

“This case is not yet ripe for decision,” Seeger wrote in a 16-page ruling. “Maybe Finnigan will receive methadone at the jail, and maybe she won't. Maybe the alternative treatment (if any) will be constitutionally adequate, and maybe it won't. Maybe any alternative treatment will be so inadequate that it would justify the extraordinary use of injunctive relief, and maybe it won't. No one knows.”

Seeger noted the sheriff's office has pledged to medically evaluate Finnigan within 24 hours of her arrival and decide a course of treatment based on that. Authorities have not ruled out methadone, he added.

“But they can't know until they examine her. Examination first, treatment decision second,” he wrote. “Finnigan complains about a set of facts that may or may not come to pass.”

Seeger said Finnigan is welcome to refile her suit based on what happens after she begins her sentence.

Backing the reform bill

We've heard plenty of objections from suburban law enforcement leaders in recent weeks about the controversial criminal justice reform bill signed into law Monday by Gov. J.B. Pritzker. But not all are opposed to the sweeping legislation, which includes a mandate for body-worn cameras, eliminates cash bond and makes it easier to fire bad cops.

Among those cheering on its enactment Monday was new Lake County State's Attorney Eric Rinehart. He attended Pritzker's signing over Zoom and afterward praised the bill, particularly its elimination of the cash bond system.

Lake County State's Attorney Eric Rinehart

“While we are finally ending the injustice of dangerous people buying their freedom, we are also codifying what each of us know to be true: No one should be in jail simply because they are poor,” he said.

While critics have said getting rid of cash bond will allow dangerous criminals to roam free, Rinehart argues the opposite is true - it will allow judges the discretion to detain violent criminals who could otherwise buy their way out of custody.

“For this reason, the most preeminent victims advocate groups support this reform,” he said. “The most accomplished and passionate advocates for victims support this bill.”

Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg

Also weighing in this week was Lake County Sheriff John Idleburg, who offered a more tepid response to the bill. Idleburg said it is necessary for law enforcement to change as society's philosophies change, and he supports several provisions in the bill.

However, he said he still has concerns, such as due process rights for officers accused of misconduct and a restriction on police reviewing bodycam footage while writing their reports. He said he hopes to address those issues through the legislative process.

“It's so important for us to not shy away from entering the arena, where policy change happens through negotiation and conversation, and instead sink to echo chambers on social media that illicit fear and obstruct progress,” he said. “The truth is, sheer opposition will only make you lose your seat at the negotiating table, which is why, instead, I am engaging and offering solutions to better inform the policymakers in Springfield.”

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