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Crime-and-courts
West Frankfort Police officer sued after allegedly sexually assaulting a woman while a Mount Vernon cop

WEST FRANKFORT — Documents have revealed a recently-hired West Frankfort police officer resigned from his previous position in Mount Vernon after a sexual assault allegation was sent to the Illinois State Police for investigation. A civil case was filed Oct. 26 in federal court related to the same incident.

According to files obtained by the newspaper through the Freedom of Information Act, Cpl. Nicholas Gaines, who was hired full time by the West Frankfort Police Department in June, was investigated internally after a citizen complaint alleged that he groped and kissed a woman against her will while on duty.

A major complaint form filed Oct. 30, 2016, lists the sexual assault allegation as “sustained” and “pursuing criminal charges (ISP).” As of November 2017, Gaines has not been charged as a result of the investigation.

The summary of the incident in the complaint form indicates that Gaines “initiated contact” with an unidentified victim at her home to “inquire about her driving status.” The complaint states Gaines said he saw the victim driving and believed her license to be suspended. After the incident was settled, the report indicates the victim smiled at Gaines, who then used Mount Vernon Police Department Spillman records to acquire the woman's cell phone number, "which he used to ask her about the smile.”

Gaines then asked if he could return to the home to discuss the location of drugs that were collected from her garage, according to the complaint. It is there that Gaines allegedly “touched around her chest and buttocks area, manipulated her clothes and attempted to arrange a future meeting.”

The complaint form indicates that the victim initially consented but then “felt panicked" because she had a criminal record and felt she was being set up.

The complaint and affidavit for search warrant from ISP state that Gaines “told her during their phone conversation he saw her smile at him as he was leaving and wanted to know why.” It later alleges that Gaines told the victim he wanted to come by and talk to and to see the location where “some drug offenders left contraband in her garage.”

The document alleges that Gaines arrived while on duty, in uniform, in a squad car. Once inside the garage, the document alleges that Gaines began “asking her personal questions, began flirting with her, and she asked about him being married.” According to the affidavit’s narrative, Gaines told her he was 33 years old, was married and showed her a tattoo on his arm that said “DAD.”

“She said he pulled up her shirt to see her bra. She said he identified her bra as ‘Victoria Secrets’ brand, which it was. She said Corporal Gaines then turned her around, pulled up her panties, and also incorrectly identified them as ‘Victoria Secrets’ brand,” the document states. The account goes on to indicate that the victim said she “became uncomfortable, began to panic, did not ask to be touched, and tried walking out of the garage away from Corporal Gaines.”

The document states when she tried to leave, “Gaines grabbed her, prevented her from leaving the garage, pulled her back to him and told her he was not done.” The document states the alleged victim indicated he then began kissing her. The document said while Gaines was “forcing her to ‘French kiss’ she bumped his radio, causing a squelch break.” The timeline alleged that while Gaines was responding to a status check, she got away.

In Capt. Jeff Bullard’s narrative in the major complaint form, he said Gaines admitted going to the victim’s residence as well as using police department records to obtain her number and calling her “in part to inquire about the smile he saw from her” but also to try to “develop her as an informant, knowing she had past drug involvements, including the drugs she turned over to the police from her garage.” He also admitted to kissing the victim and to touching her on the chest, and admitted to her shirt being lifted by either herself or him to show her tattoos. He admitted that he also was interested “in pursuing something intimate, which later the same day he regretted. He said (the alleged victim) wanted to see him again but he had not had any other contact with her since 10/20/16.” The document states Gaines denied “forcing her to do anything.”

This was not Gaines’ first sex-related infraction. In 2013, a major complaint was sustained against him for sexual harassment while he was attending the Illinois State Police Academy in Springfield. The narrative of events indicate that Gaines was there for K-9 training. The complaint states that Gaines “continued a conversation with ISP employee (name redacted) about after work social contact to the point of making her uncomfortable enough to lodge an E.E.O.C. complaint through the ISP command staff.”

“Asking someone of the opposite gender to meet after work hours, during work hours, for social contact, can be perceived as a request for a date by the receiver,” the report states.

The report also indicates that other women had complained about Gaines to one another, enough to garner him the nickname “Creepy Nic.” The narrative also states Gaines had “been asked to leave the facility and banned from Academy property.”

A “last chance agreement” was provided to Gaines in August 2013 by the city of Mount Vernon as he had received two sustained major complaints that year — the sexual harassment complaint at the academy and a separate sustained complaint from a citizen that alleged Gaines used inappropriate language. The agreement stipulated that Gaines maintain a “clean disciplinary record for five years.”

The event sent to ISP for investigation last year would have been his third strike. Gaines was put on unpaid administrative leave and ultimately tendered his resignation Nov. 9, 2016.

Gaines was hired the following January by the West Frankfort Police Department on a temporary basis. In June, he was brought on full time.

When asked if he was aware of the marks against Gaines in his personnel file, West Frankfort Police Chief Mike Irwin said he was.

“We were aware that he had the issues, however, the issues had been investigated and no charges were filed,” Irwin said.

The 2016 sexual assault case was turned over to the Jefferson County State’s Attorney, who then gave it to the Illinois Appellate Prosecutor’s Office.

Irwin said in a Monday interview he called the prosecutor assigned to the case at the time, though he said he could not remember the prosecutor's name.

“My understanding was the situation had been investigated and prosecution had been declined,” Irwin said.

Representatives for the Appellate Prosecutor’s Office could not be reached for this report.

Irwin said a recently filed lawsuit against Gaines and the city of Mount Vernon would not affect Gaines’ post with the city.

“Officer Gaines has performed at a high level … we don’t see any reason that will change,” Irwin said, adding that he believes in second chances.

“This is the United States. You can’t really fault someone for trying to make a living and if they have made mistakes in the past they would have the opportunity not to make those mistakes again,” Irwin said.

A civil case was filed Oct. 26 in federal court by Steven Giacoletto, of Collinsville, on behalf of the alleged victim against Gaines and the city of Mount Vernon. The complaint document, obtained through PACER, details seven counts, including false imprisonment, sexual assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, all related to the alleged incident on Oct. 30 of last year.

The document indicated that the alleged victim is seeking “money damages and declaratory relief.” The document also asked requests a “trial by jury on all issues triable by a jury.”

There are currently no hearing dates set in the suit.


Carterville
top story
Dog park opens in Carterville

CARTERVILLE — Canine citizens of Carterville have a new place to play.

The new Carterville Bark Park officially opened this past Wednesday in Cannon Park. The park is a project of Carterville Area Rotary Club.

About five years ago, Janice and John McConnaughy took their dogs to Murphysboro to check out the dog park in Riverside Park. While there, they met Patty Bateman, who worked on getting the dog park in Murphysboro.

“I thought, 'Wouldn’t it be great for Carterville to have something like this, not only for dog owners. It is also a great place to meet people,'” McConnaghy said.

So, she took the idea to Carterville Area Rotary Club. Rich Davis of Century 21 was club president, and he gave McConnaughy the go-ahead to form a committee and begin working on a dog park project.

McConnaughy met with Bill Mausey, who was mayor of Carterville at the time, and several City Council members. All of them supported the project.

She said support from the city has been great. The City Council gave the dog park committee one acre in Cannon Park, directly behind the community center, to build the park. They also agreed to cut the grass in the park.

Current Mayor Brad Robinson has supported the project since he was a mayoral candidate.

bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

The new Carterville Bark Park in Cannon Park opened to the public last week.

When McConnaughy was hired by the city of Carterville, she wanted to avoid a conflict of interest. So McConnaughy asked the late Bill Searcy to lead the Bark Park project.

“He led it for three years and got it approved through City Council,” McConnaughy said.

Searcy resigned from the committee earlier this year, about two months before he and his wife, Pat, were killed in an airplane crash in September.

McConnaughy said funding was the big hurdle. She researched the cost of dog parks and discovered they would need around $26,000 to complete the project. So, they began raising money.

“We have had a 5K Dog Jog the past two years as well, proceeds have gone toward the dog park,” Rotary member Brian Flath said. “Those will continue to fund needs at the facility.”

Last year, a portion of funds raised at the club’s gala went to the Bark Park.

“The dog park was the primary beneficiary,” Flath said.

“The gala raised a large amount that allowed us to buy the fencing and have it installed,” McConnaughy said.

She said she felt it was important to have black vinyl-coated fencing.

“I felt like the finished project should be something the city and Rotary would be very proud of,” McConnaughy added.

bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

Josh Stultz of Carterville plays with his dog, Maverick, at the new Carterville Bark Park in Cannon Park on Friday afternoon. The park opened to the public last week.

The group started another project to get benches for the Bark Park — saving plastic soda caps. Flath said a company in Evansville, Indiana, will trade the caps for benches.

The entire town seemed to embrace this part of the project. Tri-C Elementary Schools collected caps, as did city offices and Rotary members.

“The caps and plastic lids project has been going for about a year,” McConnaughy said. “Last week, John (McConnaghy), Jason Cook and Bill Renn with school district went and traded caps for six 8-foot benches.”

Plans are underway with John A. Logan College to construct a pavilion over the six benches in the spring.

Both McConnaughy and Flath say without the city of Carterville’s generosity, Rotary could never have completed the Bark Park project.

A ribbon cutting event and grand opening will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 15. The Bark Park is open from sunrise to sunset daily.


Govt-and-politics
featured
Big money ripple effect: Expensive Illinois governor race spills down the ballot

By now, it's already evident the 2018 race for Illinois governor is a contest like no other.

The amount of money raised so far has already blown past $100 million. And, even though there are more than five months to go before the March 20 election, television ads have been airing for weeks in markets across the state.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who doled out tens of millions of dollars of his own money in 2014 and 2016 is ready to do it again.

This cycle, his campaign has raised more than $72 million, which includes a $50 million contribution Rauner made this past December.

Meanwhile, Democrat J.B. Pritzker, a businessman and wealthy heir to the Hyatt fortune, has devoted $28 million of his own money to the race so far.

Both men face primaries, but at least in terms of the money they've raised they're easily outdistancing their rivals.

If the two end up going head to head, some analysts are predicting record spending.

"It's already pretty unprecedented," said Sarah Brune, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, which tracks money in political races and pushes for reform.

Big money in the 2018 election cycle isn't confined to the top of the ticket, either.

Last year's elections saw 23 state legislative races top $1 million, with five going higher than $5 million, according to Kent Redfield, an emeritus professor at the University of Illinois Springfield, who tracks campaign spending.

Expect similar spending levels this cycle, experts say.

Redfield points to the potential of a Pritzker candidacy and said, in part, the typical funding sources for Democrats are especially excited about the prospect of having more flexibility that would come with a self-funder at the top of the ticket.

"That's what makes Pritzker so compelling is he can self-fund, then people that are funding the Democrats' legislative campaign are not forced to do triage," he said.

Not all are fans, of course. A Pritzker rival in the primary, state Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Evanston, has pointedly asked, "Are we going to have an election or an auction?"

Pritzker's campaign has emphasized his experience and devotion to causes like early education. Still, some of his backers in the primary clearly like the idea that he can bring his own money to the fight.

The state AFL-CIO endorsed Pritzker in June.

In 2016, Republicans broke the Democrats' super-majority in the House, with spending by the governor and a handful of allies fueling the cause. One of the seats the GOP won was in the 71st District, where Rep. Tony McCombie, a Savanna, Illinois, Republican, defeated Democrat Mike Smiddy.

The contest cost about $3.6 million, Redfield said.

This cycle, it's likely that the race for the seat held by state Sen. Neil Anderson, R-Andalusia, will be a prominent one in the state. Democrats, Redfield said, will most likely play defense outside of Chicago and its suburbs. But the race for the 36th District is likely to be the exception, he said.

Anderson already has raised $422,000, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. Gregg Johnson, a longtime union official and one of two Democrats who have announced candidacies for the seat, has raised about $18,000.

Those figures will surely go much higher, as parties and labor unions dive in.

"I think the Republicans will spend a lot of money defending Anderson," he said.

Christopher Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Springfield, also notes that there have been a number of Statehouse Republicans who have announced retirements, which opens up seats.

That means even more spending down the ballot.

"It's all there," he said.

Lots of money at the top of the ticket is one thing, but Brune also said that campaigns down the ballot are getting more expensive, too.

It's not just the money being shelled out for seats in the General Assembly, either. Local races this year also saw increased spending, notably in Aurora and Evanston, where mayors races were hotly contested.

Brune said some contests saw spending between $100,000 and $500,000.

"That's a lot of money for a local race," she said.