KANKAKEE — A case is being built against a Kankakee homeowner who Kankakee County prosecutors say is maintaining a gang home.
Alleging the home has ties to the Latin Kings gang, prosecutors are requesting a temporary injunction from a judge through a civil lawsuit that would have the residence at 456 S. Lincoln Ave. vacated and shuttered.
The home is owned by Irene Guzman, whose sons Hernan and Ruben Carmona have ties with the gang, according to court records.
The history of the home and its encounters with police were the subject of 16 testimonies heard over the course of two days of hearings on Sept. 24 and Thursday before Judge Bill Dickenson at the Kankakee County courthouse.
The two days of testimony were part of the plaintiff’s case under the representation of Jonathan Watson and Renee Wright.
Among those to testify were neighbors who were home during six drive-by shootings that occurred between July 1, 2019, and Aug. 29, 2020.
“It was like a war zone. It was no pop, pop. It was a consistent ta-ta-ta,” a witness described an Aug. 29 shooting. “It was like lightning lit up the night.”
Residents testified that they dove to the floor with their children as shots were fired.
One witness testified a bullet came through their kitchen window, hit the microwave, traveled through a wall and landed on the stairs in the living room.
Others testified their homes and vehicles had been hit by gunfire.
One incident that was discussed at length during the two days of testimony was a Sept. 16, 2019, shooting that endangered students on a school bus.
As a Kankakee school bus was stopped to drop off students, shots were exchanged between two parties.
Per video from inside the bus that was played during Thursday’s hearing, the bus driver saw a car approaching 456 S. Lincoln where there were people standing outside. Those in the passing vehicle drew guns and began shooting.
“No, no, no, no,” the bus driver yelled as she drove away.
Five gunshots were heard. None hit the bus and no children were injured.
Some of those standing outside the residence — including Ruben Carmona, who police say returned fire — are believed to be members of the Latin Kings.
In the passing vehicle were members of a rival gang, Harrison Gents, according to court documents.
Police say Thomas A. Rebmann Jr. was a shooter in the vehicle. He was arrested in July on charges of aggravated discharge of a firearm.
In September, Ruben Carmona was arrested at Guzman’s residence on charges of aggravated discharge of a firearm in the drive-by shooting.
According to court documents, Kankakee police have been dispatched to the 400 block of South Lincoln Avenue 150 times since September 2017 for reports of shots fired, ordinance violations and more.
As for the residence at 456 S. Lincoln, officers responded to 29 calls from Oct. 9, 2017, to Oct. 2, 2019.
Guzman’s son Hernan Carmona is currently serving time in prison after he pleaded guilty to shooting two people during an Aug. 27, 2017, drive-by in the 300 block of North Rosewood Avenue.
Guzman’s attorney Eric Davis, of Kankakee, made multiple objections throughout the two days of testimony and asked the judge to strike witnesses’ comments. Davis argued the instances presented may have occurred at the house but did not involve Guzman. She’s listed as a defendant in the lawsuit but the house itself is not a named party.
Judge Dickenson overruled his objections, saying he would revisit it as the hearing continues on Oct. 15 when the defense will present its case.
If Dickenson rules in favor of the county and city, granting the temporary injunction, Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe says the next step will be to gain approval for closing the house for a year.
The case against Guzman sheds light on the violence that has plagued some areas in the north, east and south sides of Kankakee. Seven Kankakee police officers testified on Thursday, with one saying the gun violence has worsened in the last five years.
The veteran officer said the home at 456 S. Lincoln is the “epicenter” for the Latin Kings. Its detached garage, he testified, is a known meeting place for the gang.
This is not the first time local officials have taken legal action against Guzman.
Rowe said a 2017 nuisance case against the 456 S. Lincoln Ave. residence was dropped in August 2018 as Guzman had abated the nuisance.
The current case again alleges the property is a nuisance, but this time it specifically calls it a gang nuisance, Rowe told the Daily Journal in October 2019 after the lawsuit was filed.
A PROCESS IN PLACE
City and county nuisance abatement ordinances allow for the closing of a house deemed a chronic public nuisance by a judge.
The city’s code enforcement department can deem a residence uninhabitable. If that happens, the owner must bring the building up to code as well as pay any outstanding fines, fees and taxes in order to allow people to live in the home again.
Rowe and the city have previously been successful in obtaining nuisance abatements for two houses in the 300 block of North Rosewood Avenue.
In September 2017, the house at 354 N. Rosewood Ave. was boarded up after it was determined to be a place of gang-related activity. Then in July 2018, the house at 331 N. Rosewood Ave. was shuttered for the same reason.
Rowe said his office will likely take action against other problem houses in the city in the future.