ST. ANNE — On a recent weekday morning, John Farber sat at a table in Twisted Sister’s Cafe with four retirees.
They shot the breeze about the day’s weather, how this year’s corn and soybean crops looked, farming and other events going on in and around St. Anne.
Two men who work on roads in a nearby township discussed decreasing the miles of gravel roads left in their township.
Farber talked about their work and another township highway commissioner who did good things.
The conversations are key to Farber’s job as an Illinois Conservation Police Officer.
“That is important. One thing about this job is that we have to get to know people,” Farber said. “There are a lot of great people who support law enforcement and they want to protect their (natural) resources.
“You’ve got to take time to go into the coffee shops, gas stations and talk. Drink a cup of coffee and listen to what is going on.”
Farber, a St. Anne resident, was recently honored as the Illinois Conservation Police Officer of the Year for the state.
He was nominated by his supervisor, Sgt. Dave Wollgast.
Wollgast said every year Farber does more and more to exemplify what a conservation officer is and does.
“He takes the time to talk with people,” Wollgast said. “He has a good understanding of the people.”
“You can do this job on your own, but you won’t meet your maximum potential. It’s the key to succeeding,” Farber explained. “The job takes teamwork. That starts with my wife (Kelli) and children (Ruby and Hank), my fellow officer Brian Elliot, local law agencies, sheriff’s departments, state police, state’s attorney, state park staff, road commissioners, local governments and citizens.”
Farber added his parents — Jack and Sharon Farber — were good parents who “raised me and my brother (Sam) the right way.”
Elliot is a Herscher High School graduate, who has teamed with Farber for the past two years.
Farber and Elliot each received “Award of Merit” for their effort in a 2020 boating accident on the Kankakee River that claimed the lives of two men.
“I grew up in Kankakee County, and working with John, it is like he lived here all of his life. He really knows the people and the area,” Elliot said.
Farber has been a conservation officer in Kankakee and Iroquois counties since the summer of 2017. He joined the agency in September 2013.
Farber is a U.S. Marine veteran who grew up in Morris.
Along with the honor came being named the “Conservation Officer of the Year” from the Association of Midwest Fish and Game Law Enforcement Officers.
The organization is made up of 23 states and Canadian provinces.
“That was quite the surprise,” Farber said. “The whole thing was a humbling experience.”
Farber said one of his field training officers — Steve Vasicek, of Union County — “paved the way to how he works his job.”
“Steve molded the way I operate,” Farber said.
Vasicek received the “Conservation Officer of the Year” honor in 2015.
Another influential person who helped mold Farber is now retired Conservation Police Officer Holly Vadbunker.
“She guided me in the right direction,” Farber said.
Farber said it’s not about awards, but it’s about doing the job for the people.
“He’s got that old school, blue collar, lunch pail, go-to-work mentality,” Elliot said.
“I’m very happy for him. He does what is right and fair.”
Bond court is held every afternoon in the Kankakee County courthouse. It is where individuals arrested in the past 48 hours make an appearance before a judge.
Circuit Judge Kathy Bradshaw-Elliott said half of those appearing in court every day are up on domestic battery charges. She said it’s a trend that will likely continue.
“I don’t see domestic batteries subsiding at all, either felonies or misdemeanors,” Bradshaw-Elliott said.
The fallout of the ugliness of the crime has an impact on everyone, according to the experts.
Domestic violence has been prevalent in Kankakee County for many years, but it has grown worse since the first few months of the pandemic in 2020.
“This is not anything that hasn’t been going on for the last year really,” said Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey at this past week’s County Board’s Finance Committee meeting. “It’s been talked about before, but the domestics that are occurring in our county are atrocious. They are literally atrocious. Every day you look at our custody list, and there are multiple, multiple inmates who have been arrested for domestic battery.”
Downey said his department continues to work with local social service agencies and will continue to work with the state’s attorney’s office “to see what options we have to reduce that.”
Jenny Schoenwetter, executive director of Harbor House, the local domestic violence family shelter, said her team has felt the increase of domestic violence cases.
“All of our numbers, nights in shelter provided, everything along those lines, we’ve seen the increase,” she said. “It’s not even just us, this is something that I work with agencies across the state that we’re all seeing this increase in demand, and I’m sure it’s a national trend.”
Schoenwetter said the Harbor House’s hotline has seen a 15 percent monthly increase in phone calls over the past fiscal year. A peak month during the pandemic was a 60 percent increase in calls.
“It hasn’t slowed, necessarily, we stayed very consistent,” she said. “That’s the thing with domestic violence, too, is there’s not always trends or slow times in our field, but it’s something that I don’t feel like we’ve been able to catch much of that reprieve or that breath. It’s been consistently busy, unfortunately.”
PANDEMIC HEIGHTENED DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Schoenwetter said there are a variety of reasons why domestic cases have risen.
“Everything around domestic violence boils down to power and control,” she said. “So that’s something that the abuser is always seeking in that relationship, and sometimes for the victim in that relationship being able to get away for a period of time like to work or to the grocery store or things along those lines that helps to create a little bit of space and reprise, and that wasn’t an option.”
There was a high amount of isolation during the pandemic, and that gave the abuser even more control.
“The abuser was given a whole new set of rules in a playbook such as making the victim work from the garage in the middle of the winter where there’s no heat, because they would claim that they would need the office or something like that,” Schoenwetter said. “So not cooperating or collaborating with a partner in a healthy way, which is what most relationships would do, but they were able to leverage different kinds of tactics that led to higher rates of violence because there wasn’t that chance to get away from it.
“In the same capacity, ... I think victims felt even more isolated than ever before because you couldn’t go anywhere.”
ARRESTS MADE DAILY
Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe said he saw an increase in domestic violence cases coming into his office a few months into the pandemic. It hasn’t slowed down.
“Pretty much every day, unfortunately, there’s someone in custody for domestic battery,” Rowe said. “When you think of a community our size, 120,000 people, that definitely signals that we have a domestic violence problem in Kankakee County because a community of our size, did not see that.”
Rowe said his office has 1,400 open domestic violence cases pending, some that date back to 2018.
“When you talk about criminal offenses, that is probably the most prevalent criminal offense that is charged in the county — domestic battery — whether misdemeanor or felony,” he said. “When you talk about felony domestic battery ..., basically we charge more domestic violence felonies than any other type of felony in the county.”
7 DEATHS SINCE JULY 2020
More alarming, is that there a rise in felony domestic batter cases. Those are cases that involve strangulation, bodily harm or more three-time offenders. There have been seven deaths due to domestic battery since July of 2020 in Kankakee County, said Schoenwetter.
“The felonies have increased because legislation has changed a lot,” explained Bradshaw-Eillott, who adjudicated domestic violence cases since 1995. “The penalties have become greater and greater. They’ve enhanced a lot of domestic battery cases, whether it’s strangulation, prior convictions or whether it’s bodily harm. A lot of those that maybe used to be misdemeanors, based on the new legislation over the last few years, is now a felony.”
Rowe said it’s hard to put a finger on the root cause of domestic violence, but he echoed Schoenwetter’s statement that it’s about power and control. He said it’s not about alcoholism or anger management problems.
“It’s hard to really explain why we see the numbers we do,” he said.
What can be done?
“I don’t think there’s a simple answer,” Rowe said.
The county does have a domestic violence probation that first-time offenders for misdemeanor offenses are assigned. They’re required to complete drug and alcohol evaluation and are required to complete a drug and alcohol treatment. They then must undergo a 26-week domestic violence treatment program, and some remain in treatment for a year or longer.
The program has had some success, according to a recent study by Illinois State University. Elliott said the recidivism rate for first-time offenders in Illinois is between 54 to 60 percent.
“They did a study a number of years ago, and when something works, you’re expecting the problem solving course recidivism rates to be at 35 percent or under, which is about half less than the normal recidivism rate,” she said. “And when they did ours, ... I want to say it was somewhere between 15 to 25 percent.”
“Individuals who went through that program were less likely to recidivate back into the system for a subsequent domestic violence event than someone who just went through a traditional prosecution model,” Rowe said.
WHAT ELSE CAN BE DONE?
Schoenwetter said reaching out to someone who might be in a difficult relationship can help.
“If there’s somebody you know, thinking of it in your own personal life, who you haven’t talked to in a while or who you might suspect is in unhealthy relationship, giving them a call and saying, ‘Hey, how are you doing? If you ever need to talk, I’m here,’” she said. “Connecting them with the resources. And I think that domestic violence, it lies in the shadows. As long as it’s in the shadows and the darkness, it’s going to thrive. But when you shine a light on it, it can’t run and hide anymore.”
In addition to reaching out to individuals, Schoenwetter said holding abusers accountable and getting victims and survivors access to services are integral.
“It affects our businesses, it affects our schools, it affects the criminal judicial system,” she said. “It affects every single person in our county. When we start to talk about it and bring more awareness to it, then we can get help to the people who need it, and also stop individuals who may abuse.
“Thinking of healthy relationships with teens, talk to teens about healthy relationships and how you can solve conflict in a healthier manner. Think of all the victims that you could prevent from being victims by one potential abuser.”
In addition to Harbor House’s 24-hour hotline (815-932-5800), it offers shelter for domestic violence victims up to 18 individuals, including children and pets. It also has a chat line on its website at harborhousedv.org.
Rowe, who is also president of Harbor House’s board, said the key to reducing domestic violence incidents in the community is to have an active effort to reduce it and to offer help to victim services.
“They say it takes seven times before a victim of domestic violence leaves the violent relationship,” he said. “Seven times and when they leave, when they finally have the courage and the wherewithal and the resources and the safety plan, which is the most important thing, when they finally have those things in order to leave that relationship, we’ve got to make sure there is a safe haven where they can go, and that’s where Harbor House comes in.”
KANKAKEE — Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe said a Kankakee police officer was charged with indirect contempt of court for failing to testify in a trial dealing with a felony weapons charge case last month.
Officer Marisha Costello has been a member of the Kankakee Police Department for three years, Police Chief Robin Passwater said. She is currently on requested leave.
The Daily Journal attempted to contacted Costello.
Rowe said Costello failed to appear for a July 9 bench trial for defendant Ruben Carmona, of Kankakee, after she was served with a subpoena. Costello did not contact Rowe’s office to explain why she was a no-show.
“This has never happened before since I have been the state’s attorney,” Rowe said. “Nobody is above the law. When citizens fail to appear after being subpoenaed, we charge them with contempt. There is no exception for a police officer.”
Rowe said the subpoena was issued after Costello failed to appear for an earlier court date for the case presided over by Circuit Judge Kathy Bradshaw-Elliott.
Carmona, who court records show is a member of the Latin Kings street gang, was charged with aggravated discharge of a firearm for a December 2019 incident in the 400 block of South Lincoln Avenue. His family resides on the block.
Judge Bradshaw-Elliott found Carmona not guilty July 30.
Rowe said when Elliott found Carmona not guilty. She said the lack of testimony from Costello left unanswered questions.
Costello’s case was called this week for a hearing on a petition for indirect contempt of court filed by Rowe. Costello did not appear before Bradshaw-Elliott, who then issued a no bond warrant.
The no bond warrant means a person cannot be released until the issuing judge decides to quash, meaning reject or void, the warrant, set a bond or releases the person on a personal recognizance bond.
Passwater said officers are required to show up to court for cases.
“(Officer Costello) has been notified about this and advised to resolve this issue as soon as possible with the court,” Passwater said.”Officers are aware when they need to be at court for cases they are involved with.
“I’m not happy with this. This was an important case. It was a felony gun charge.”
Rowe said Costello had been in touch with someone in the state’s attorney’s office, but the issue has not been resolved.
Passwater was asked if Costello is facing disciplinary action.
“That is something we will look at when she returns to work,” Passwater said.
Carmona is facing another aggravated discharge of a firearm case when he was arrested for aggravated discharge of a firearm on Sept. 16, 2019.
It came from a drive-by shooting incident in which a Kankakee School District bus was caught up in gunfire. No adults or students on the bus were injured.
Another man, Thomas A. Rebmann Jr., of unincorporated Chebanse, also was arrested and charged with aggravated discharge of a firearm.
Rebmann is a member of the Harrison Street Gents gang, according to court records.