UPDATE: Lyons charges Peoria City Council members with politics

DeWayne Bartels
Peoria County States Attorney Kevin Lyons, this afternoon, said a noon press conference to question why his office makes certain decisions is last-minute politicking, despite protests to the contrary by Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis.

Related information:

• Arrest info Page: 1, 2

• Case summary Page: 1,2

• Letter from Kevin Lyons

It was a bloody political Sunday in the race for Peoria County States Attorney, with the first shot fired by Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis and members of the Peoria City Council. 

A press conference held Sunday at noon by members of the Peoria City Council brought up questions about how crimes are charged in Peoria County.

That led to accusations of last-minute politics by Peoria County States Attorney Kevin Lyons.

The press conference — held by Ardis; 3rd District councilman Bob Manning; at-large councilmen Eric Turner, Ryan Spain and Jim Montelongo and 5th District councilman Pat Nichting — was called to ask for an explanation by those in charge of prosecuting crimes why things are done the way they are.

None of the council members mentioned Lyons by name, but all support Republican candidate for Peoria County States Attorney Darin LaHood.

Ardis said the recent arrest of several people in the East Bluff on felony drug and gun charges and their subsequent release on notices to appear in court demanded explanation.

When asked by the press about the timing of the press conference Ardis said it was not a politically motivated stunt.

"Crime is not a convenient thing to discuss," he said.

Ardis added the council members decided to press the issue then because they wanted to bring the issue up while it was fresh in everyone's mind.

Ardis and several other council members expressed frustration at not being able to get an explanation as to why these people were back on the street threatening neighbors.

Lyons, however, said Manning had been given an explanation on Friday afternoon. 

Lyons said the city council press conference could interfere with the  prosecution of the case.

Lyons went on to say this smells of last minute politics.

“Politics has an ugly side to it. Sometimes it shows itself on Sunday,” Lyons said.

Lyons smiled when told Ardis said this had nothing to do with politics.

“In the law we call that, ‘res ipsa loquitur,’ the thing speaks for itself.”

The council

Ardis said the press conference was called to address growing frustration among neighborhood residents in every council district and among city council members.

The tipping point, Ardis said, was a case from Oct. 29 in the East Bluff. On that date five people - Justin Rodgers, 22; Lynn Swift, 22,; Durrell Wilburn, 23; Timothy Burton, 22 and Kristin Toothman, 20, were arrested on various drug and weapons charges, some of them felonies.

In the raid on the house at 1123 E. Elmhurst police confiscated more than two pounds of marijuana, 45 grams of cocaine, two grams of crack cocaine, body armor and five guns - including an assault rifle and an assault shotgun.

Within 48 hours of the arrests the five were released on notices to appear at the Peoria county jail.

"No bond, no bail was requested," Manning said.

The neighbors, the police and the city did their part, Manning said.

"This is unacceptable," he added. "What does it take to keep people behind bars?"

Manning said he and the rest of the council members at the press conference wanted answers on the process and how it works.

"The community, as well as this council, have reached a point of zero tolerance," Turner said.

Ardis built on that sentiment.

"We want due process ... We want these individuals to have to do more than sign a piece of paper and walk away," Ardis said.

"Our question is who is the responsible person and how does the process work?"

Ardis said there may be good answers as to why those charged with felonies are turned loose back into a neighborhood where they are allegedly threatening neighbors.

"We're anxious to hear it," Ardis said.

Following the press conference Ardis said his efforts to get answers date back a long time.

"Any communication would be a start. I have personally not been very successful in communicating with the states attorney's office."

Some answers 

One of Lyons' assistants attended the press conference and following it he provided a prepared summary of the case for the press.

Lyons said he had the case summary prepared because he had been alerted of the council press conference in advance by some Peoria Police officers.

Lyons, at his press conference in the Peoria County Courthouse, said he doubted the council press conference was called out of "altruism and out of genuine concern for law and order."

Lyons also released a copy of a letter from his office dated Nov. 26, 2007. In the letter Lyons addressed concerns Manning had about drug house forfeiture.

The letter, in part, stated, "I'll await hearing from Chief Settingsgaard or you in the hopes of having us evaluate and commence forfeitures on the worst as soon as possible."

Lyons said he is still waiting for word from Manning.

"I know what's happening here. The council owns city hall. They own the police department," Lyons said.

"Here's a message for the mayor and those council members: 'This courthouse is not for sale.'" 

In explaining why the case is being handled the way it is Lyons said prosecuting a case is about building evidence and legal strategy.

"We know it is unlikely everyone is guilty of the same things," Lyons said.

Lyons said he wants most to build a case against Justin Rodgers. But, he said, because the case is partially built on testimony from confidential sources he is moving carefully. That, he said, may not now be possible because of the interference by some city council members.

In a case summary provided to the press Lyons said, "When great attention is given to a case at the pre-charging stage, the confidential nature of the confidential source becomes compromised."

Lyons added that behind-the-scenes legal maneuvering have also likely been compromised. He said the police were working on gaining testimony against Rodgers by the "lesser involvdeds" in the case.

"But, before we could do that Mr. Manning held his press conference," Lyons said.

And as far as answers Lyons said one of his assistants took a call from Manning at 3:30 p.m. on Friday and explained what was going on in the case.

Lyons said is appeared to him the city council wanted him to follow a legal strategy of "Ready, fire, aim." 

Lyons said the city council getting involved did not help in prosecuting the case but added, "We'll be OK."

Lyons said the strategy he is following is the quickest path to prison for Rodgers.

Lyons got in one last shot at the mayor and council members at the press conference. He said they do not need an explanation about how the notice to appear process works.

"The mayor and these city council members," Lyons said, "all have family members who know what an NTA is all about."