St. Clair County Associate Judge Chris Kolker on Tuesday found former Caseyville Police Chief Jose Alvarez not guilty on two misdemeanor charges brought by a special prosecutor.
Alvarez was charged with disorderly conduct and battery following a Feb. 19 Caseyville Village Board meeting in which Alvarez raised his voice and gestured angrily at Mayor Leonard Black, accusing him of taking his orders from Belleville shock-jock Bob Romanik. Video excerpts from the interaction were portrayed repeatedly in the media and made the village a YouTube sensation.
Current Police Chief Frank Moore contacted the Illinois State Police on Feb. 28 to file a misdemeanor complaint against Alvarez for the Feb. 19 incident. Black, then Village Attorney John Gilbert and Caseyville police officer Woodrow Q. Hall corroborated Moore’s account of the incident and filed witness statements.
The battery charge filed by Special Prosecutor David Rands, who was appointed because Alvarez is a former employee of St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly, accused Alvarez of making “physical contact of an insulting and provoking nature with Frank Moore, striking Moore in the chest with his chest.”
Moore, who was the interim chief at the time, following Black’s Feb. 12 dismissal of Alvarez, and who stands about a foot taller than the former chief, testified Monday at trial that Alvarez “kind of” chest bumped him. Defense attorney John O’Gara questioned the physics that made it possible for Alvarez, at an extreme deficit in height and with a protruding belly, to bump chests with Moore.
“Did he use a trampoline to chest bump you?” O’Gara asked.
After the laughter in the courtroom subsided, Moore indicated that Alvarez had not used a trampoline.
Kolker’s order appears to indicate that he was equally unimpressed with the charge. After viewing the entire video, he indicates that Moore initiated contact with Alvarez.
“Eventually Frank Moore, who worked under the defendant in the police department, approached defendant and initiated physical contact with defendant by grabbing his arm,” Kolker indicated. “There is no evidence that Mr. Moore has been charged with battery.”
If there was a chest bump, which Kolker notes witnesses seated a few feet away did not see, it was an inadvertent result of Moore grabbing Alvarez’s arm, Kolker wrote. The only contact clearly on film, Kolker said, was from Moore grabbing his chief’s arm.
The disorderly conduct charge claimed Alvarez “knowingly acted in such unreasonable manner as to alarm or disturb another and to provoke a breach of the peace during the course of a meeting of the Caseyville Village Board…The defendant shouted, made threatening gestures, and stalked about the room.”
In his order, Kolker noted that “undisputed yelling was not totally unheard of at Caseyville Village Board meetings.” The judge cites other examples of yelling at the same meeting.
“Prior to defendant speaking at the meeting, an older gentleman yelled at Mayor Black and the Board. No charges were brought against that man,” Kolker indicated. “That gentleman asked the mayor to speak up because he could not hear him. Another attendee asked for him to speak louder so the people in the hallway could hear.”
Alvarez was loud at the meeting and shook his finger at Black. However, no one left because of the antics, Kolker indicated, and the meeting was not immediately adjourned, Alvarez spoke with Black later at the meeting, no police were asked to arrest Alvarez and the Board did not ask Alvarez to leave.
“In fact, no one was arrested at the instant (sic) meeting and no complaints were made with the police for over a week. No order of protection was sought,” Kolker wrote. “Defendant even walked around the Board and reached over through them later in the meeting. No one is seen recoiling in fear.”
O’Gara was not surprised by the outcome.
“Anyone who watched the video, and not just portions of the video, would reach the same conclusion Judge Kolker reached,” O’Gara said.
Copies of the full video can be obtained by filing a Freedom of Information Act request at Caseyville Village Hall. FOIA requests can also be made in writing by sending a letter to the attention of Village Clerk Rob Watt, 909 South Main Street, Caseyville, IL., 62232.
Because the complainants were two police officers, the mayor and the village attorney, Kolker noted the Payne v. Pauly (7th Cir. 2003) case which indicates public officials, such as police officers, “must be more thick skinned than the ordinary citizen.” On both counts, the State did not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, Kolker indicated.
Alvarez declined comment after the verdict.