Looters Owe $100,000-Plus In Damages For Civil Unrest
Looters who stormed several local businesses and damaged police cars last summer are facing serious financial and legal consequences for the civil unrest, including restitution of more than $100,000, in cases resolved so far.
For the more than 40 alleged looters, the insistence by judges that defendants pay restitution to businesses and the Bloomington and Normal police departments has added massive potential debt to the long-term consequences of their misconduct.
The first indication that the felony cases could be subject to harsh punishment came in September when Judge William Yoder rejected a negotiated plea agreement worked out between the state and Anthony Crose. Unlike many of his co-defendants, Crose had a pending case (an aggravated DUI) when he was charged with mob action in connection with the looting incidents.
Yoder put attorneys on notice that he would not accept plea agreements that included a specific sentence. Sentencing decisions, he said, would be made after he reviewed a pre-sentence report on the person’s background.
Yoder also insisted that looters pay restitution to stores and to police departments—despite the state’s disclosure that no restitution had been requested. Loss estimates were submitted later by businesses and the police agencies.
The state and defense proposed probation in Crose’s case; Yoder sentenced him to 4 ½ years in prison. Crose owes $84,560 restitution to NPD for damage to squad cars.
Under state law, each of the defendants is equally liable for the entire amount of restitution related to their offense, meaning each person ordered to pay damages is responsible for all losses until the total amount is paid.
Yoder made clear in his comments that he considered the activities underlying the looting, mob action and burglary charges disruptive and threatening.
“This was a night of anarchy in the community,” Yoder told one defendant, adding he heard from people who feared for their safety during the incidents.
Losses totaling $63,000 at Kohl’s and $32,000 at Target were submitted to the McLean County State’s Attorney’s office. An additional $84,000 from Normal and $32,000 from Bloomington for damage to squad cars also was sought.
A recent decision by Walmart that it did not want to pursue $249,000 in losses provided defendants with one of the few breaks they have received in their cases. Before Walmart dropped its restitution, 25-year-old Kewayne Spinks owed the state $369,000 plus routine court costs and fees.
A review by WGLT of a dozen plea agreements approved so far shows debts averaging $100,000 for eight of the defendants who range in age from 19 to 39. Three defendants, who receive disability benefits and are homeless, according to court records, qualify for a waiver of the financial portion of the sentence because of their low-income status. Charges were dismissed against one person.
Several accused looters contacted individually or through their lawyers by WGLT declined to comment on the outcome of their cases.
Yoder’s approach to sentencing also removed Second Chance probation as an option for defendants, a decision that closed the door on dismissal of charges after probation is completed. Associate Judge William Workman, who took over the looter cases after a shift in judicial assignments, has taken a similar position on probation.
"They made grown-up choices and now they're going to have grown-up consequences."
Life as a felon holds many challenges, said Bloomington defense lawyer Jennifer Patton, who represents a college student charged in the looting incidents.
“When you’re a convicted felon, it’s something most employers will want to know and it usually makes it more difficult to find employment. It also affects a lot of licensing,” for jobs in medical and other fields, said Patton.
The financial burden on people in their late teens and early 20s could have a substantial negative impact on their futures, including college tuition assistance, said Patton.
“I don’t know too many people who could pay these amounts of restitution back to the insurance companies that paid for the damage to the stores,” said Patton. Failure to make the payments could amount to a probation violation, or having the debt turned over to a collection agency -- something that reflects poorly on credit scores and adds the debt, she added.
The loss of Second Chance probation as a sentencing option also diminishes a person’s chance to prove they have turned their life around after a mistake, said Patton.
“I think Second Chance probation gives you the opportunity to either abide by the rules and show you’re going to change your life or, if you don’t, then you’re back where you started with this felony conviction,” said Patton.
The state’s evidence against the looters included social media posts in which plans to gather outside stores for the purpose of looting were shared. Security cameras captured people smashing doors of businesses and rushing back outside with big screen TVs, liquor and other merchandise.
The incidents followed a peaceful protest in downtown Bloomington related to the killing of George Floyd by police in Minnesota.
The looting, said State's Attorney Don Knapp, was “felony worthy.”
“We believed the felony charges were accurate and appropriate and we weren’t willing to reduce them to misdemeanors,” said Knapp.
The county’s lead prosecutor said he heard from “downtown business owners who talked about not sleeping for days on end because they were worried that everything they had built was going to be burned and torn apart.”
The criminal backgrounds of the defendants run the gamut, said Knapp, from “career criminals” to first offenders who “made some really stupid decisions” by joining in the looting.
“They made grown-up choices and now they’re going to have grown-up consequences,” said Knapp.
The plea agreements accepted so far by Workman involve a guilty plea to looting, mob action or burglary in exchange for dismissal of other charges. Most individuals are placed on 30 months probation and required them to complete community service ranging from 100 to 240 hours.
Jail time was limited for most people to the time served before they posted bond. If they fail to comply with terms of their probation, they may be ordered to serve jail time.
McLean County Public Defender Ron Lewis declined to comment specifically on any pending cases his office is handling in the looting incidents.
In general, said Lewis, sentences “involve the balancing of numerous complex factors. Each defendant appears with his or her own set of circumstances. While punishment is one of society’s concerns, the objective to return an offender to useful citizenship is also present in our state constitution.”
A judge has various tools available to address both punishment and rehabilitation, said Lewis.
More of the remaining looter cases are scheduled for hearings in the coming weeks where plea agreements will likely resolve the felony charges.
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