LaSalle County state's attorney fights backlash over dismissal of indicted predecessor's SAFE cases
LaSalle County State’s Attorney Karen Donnelly held a press conference recently to explain to an angry public that she is dong all she can to clean up the mess left behind by the dismissal of cases related to the former State’s Attorney Felony Enforcement (SAFE) Unit.
"It is my unpleasant duty to oversee the wrapping up of the SAFE cases, cases once again that I did not start,” Donnelly said, according to MyWebTimes.com. “… My job is to make this unpleasant wrapping up as painless as possible for LaSalle County and the public.”
Donnelly has come under fire as the cases are dismissed because the SAFE unit, established by her predecessor, Brian Towne, who was recently indicted on 17 counts of felony misconduct and misapplication of funds linked to his time in office, was deemed illegal. Towne formed SAFE in 2011. Forbes recently described the unit as Towne's own police force funded through highway shakedowns. The unit confiscated $1.7 million from drivers along Interstate 80, but the Third District Appellate Court ruled that the unit was illegal in 2015, a decision upheld in the Supreme Court this year.
“This means that arrests made by SAFE can be quashed, evidence seized by SAFE can be suppressed and convictions related to the SAFE unit can be overturned,” Donnelly said. "The floodgates have opened. There is absolutely nothing I can do, or any member of my staff, to prevent the dismissals that recently occurred and that I’m sure are to come in the future.”
Donnelly and her office have been saddled with much of the criticism for allowing those suspected of crimes to go free. This prompted Donnelly’s press conference, in which she vowed to fulfill the responsibilities of her office but refused to take responsibility for the situation she inherited.
“People seem to be up in arms about drug dealers going free, and I’ve even seen calls on Facebook for my own impeachment,” Donnelly said. “Let’s set the record straight right here and right now: I did not create, outfit, nor did I authorize the SAFE unit. Since taking office I’ve also had no comment whatsoever on the legality of SAFE, because it’s my sworn obligation as state’s attorney to defend the county and its obligations, including past actions that I may or may not agree with.”
Donnelly noted that she is working to prepare the county for court filings to retrieve money seized by SAFE. According to MyWebTimes.com, Towne had an arrangement with Spring Valley that saw him direct much of the money seized by the unit to the city. While the county has recovered just over $200,000 from the city, Donnelly is sparring with Spring Valley for a further $573,000.
"For those of you out there upset about the drug dealers going free, I have to remind you that the Fourth Amendment, the Sixth Amendment, in fact the entire Constitution, applies as much to the guilty as to the innocent," Donnelly said. “Our systems’ requirements for proper police procedures, including probably cause to stop and search, protect us all.
Donnelly said her office is working to properly reinvigorate the county’s fight against illicit substances. While the SAFE unit was in operation, she said, the Tri-County Narcotics Team fell by the wayside. Donnelly has renewed her office’s support for the program and noted that it has been very successful lately.
“You will not see systematic, state-sponsored violations of people’s rights on my watch," she said. "That is not to say I will ever by soft on crime.”