Police find 'no credible threats' after Civil War Days investigation

  • Civil War re-enactors ride into position while portraying the Battle of Vicksburg during Civil War Days at Lakewood Forest Preserve in Wauconda.

    Civil War re-enactors ride into position while portraying the Battle of Vicksburg during Civil War Days at Lakewood Forest Preserve in Wauconda. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer, 2015

 
 
Updated 6/28/2019 5:43 PM

Days after Lake County Forest Preserve District officials canceled the annual Civil War Days reenactment because of what they called security concerns, Lake County sheriff's police on Friday announced their investigation turned up no legitimate threats.

"We conducted a comprehensive investigation, reviewed thousands of messages on social media, numerous emails, numerous messages sent via the forest preserve website and did not identify any credible threats, or any evidence of a crime," said sheriff's Sgt. Christopher Covelli, a spokesman for the agency. "We've officially closed our criminal investigation."

 

Even so, forest board President Angelo Kyle insisted some of the messages the district received were threatening, including ones that indicated people might come to the event "armed and ready to fight."

Covelli said the district provided no messages from anyone threatening to come to Civil War Days armed and ready to fight.

"That absolutely could be considered a threat and something we'd investigate," Covelli said. "But that wasn't contained in any of the materials they provided us."

Sheriff's police shared some of the messages with the Daily Herald on Friday, including one that suggested Kyle, who is black, be taken "into the woods" and tied "to a tree for the night."

That one particularly troubled Kyle.

"It might not be a crime, but ... some of them were startling," said Kyle, a Waukegan Democrat. "They were offensive. And that doesn't make you feel safe when you're going to an event."

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Covelli said police interviewed the man who posted that comment by phone because he lives in another state. He didn't intend the comment to be an actual threat of violence against Kyle, Covelli said.

"He said he meant no harm by his post and had no intentions of harming anyone," Covelli said.

Civil War Days had been scheduled for July 13-14 in Lakewood Forest Preserve near Wauconda.

Forest district leaders canceled the event Monday, saying they had safety concerns after receiving phone calls and emails and reading social media posts that contained inflammatory remarks.

Those comments came after Kyle initially called off the event on his own because of racial and historical concerns but then let the event briefly stay on the schedule.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

As a result of that communication, district officials said they feared some groups would use the event as a platform and that those demonstrations could cause a tense and uncontrollable situation.

Following an inquiry by forest board Commissioner Dick Barr, sheriff's police on Tuesday requested all documentation and information concerning any threats made regarding Civil War Days from the district.

The following day, sheriff's police met with forest district Public Safety Director John Tannahill. Later in the day, the forest district gave sheriff's police more than 500 pages of documents, 20 voicemail recordings and two videos that had been posted on Facebook.

Kyle also forwarded dozens of emails and voicemails he received regarding the controversy.

Sheriff's detectives reviewed the material and found no credible threats to forest district officials, employees or property. They also didn't find any credible threats against potential Civil War Days participants or attendees.

"The vast majority of messages, emails and voicemails were members of the community expressing their displeasure with the cancellation of the event," Covelli said.

Detectives also interviewed two people who'd commented on the controversy on social media, including the one who talked about tying Kyle to a tree.

"While their comments were in extreme poor taste, there was no criminal intent (or) threat surrounding their message," sheriff's police said in Friday's news release.

Forest district Executive Director Ty Kovach said he was "very relieved" to hear there were no credible threats, and he thanked sheriff's police for reviewing the matter.

But that doesn't mean the district will reinstate Civil War Days.

"It's off for this year, regardless of the sheriff's office (investigation)," Kovach said.

Kovach maintained the district's safety concerns were legitimate. Not holding the event this year "is the very prudent thing for the district to do," he said.

Like Kovach, Barr said he was relieved no credible threats existed. But the Round Lake Beach Republican was incensed by the event's cancellation after 27 years under these circumstances, calling the situation a "boy-who-cried-wolf scenario."

Barr said officials need to determine if the reported safety concerns "were greatly exaggerated with the intent of canceling the event under false pretense."

"If so, all options need to be on the table, including demanding an immediate reinstatement of Civil War Days," Barr said.

Barr also called for Kyle to resign as board president "before any more damage can be done to the forest preserve district."

Late Friday afternoon, the district officials announced the board will meet as a committee of the whole Aug. 5 to discuss future educational events regarding the Civil War and the process for canceling events hosted by the district or on district property.

The meeting is set for 11 a.m. at the district headquarters, 1899 W. Winchester Road, Libertyville.

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