Former Cook County assistant state’s attorney Sonia Antolec gave an extraordinary interview to WTTW Ch. 11’s Carol Marin on “Chicago Tonight” Wednesday in which she explained her decision to resign from the office.The short version: She said she was suspended without pay and demoted because she decided to drop charges in one of the high-profile “wilding” cases from last spring in which a group of girls mugged a woman on the CTA Red line train.
The long version comes out in her interview, most of which I’ve transcribed below:
Antolec: We first charged the case based on the evidence that was brought to us immediately after the arrests by the police, before we were able to talk to the victims or the witnesses in the case.
And based on the police paperwork — which is usually just a summary of the events -– it looked like we had everything we needed to go ahead and charge the minor respondents. And so we absolutely did.
But, as we do in every case, we continued to investigate. We subpoenaed video evidence. We subpoenaed police records. We called the victims and the witnesses and spoke to them. And there were some red flags that were raised after our investigations.
The victim initially said she actually said she thought it was really strange but when the police asked her to identify the minor respondents and the alleged perpetrators, they were facing a wall. She said she thought it was strange.
Sometimes there could be a circumstance where a backwards show-up is appropriate if you only see someone running away from you. But in this particular case, there had been ample opportunity on the train where they might have been able to identify them from the face.
(One of the victims) thought that she recognized a pink hoodie that one of the girls (involved in the attack) may have been wearing…. I brought that to my supervisor’s attention. Talked it over with my partner in the court room and my supervisor. And we ultimately agreed that we needed to subpoena the CTA to see if there was any video evidence or any other evidence that would help us make an identification.
The video unfortunately did not (help us). The quality in and of itself was a bit grainy. The video did have three young girls, one of them was holding our victim’s purse. And so what we did in order to try and identify those three girls — of the eight that we had charges filed on — was to do close-ups and printouts of arrest photos and processing photos. And we compared them to the three girls that were on the video. We zoomed in on the girls. We did enlargements. And we could not match any of the three girls that were on the video to any of the girls that had been arrested that were in court.
Marin: Does the police report …describe the kind of lineup that they may have done?
Antolec: No, again, because police reports usually just have summaries of the events. It literally just said that a positive show-up or a positive identification was done. And it’s typically what we see when we get police reports, and what we’re relying on when we are making our final decisions.
Marin: You go into court and you drop these charges for lack of evidence. Did your supervisor know you were going to do that?
Antolec: My supervisor knew about all the red flags in this case, yes. And the entire time, every time there was a red flag or there was an issue with the identification, it was always brought to my supervisor’s attention.
Marin: Did you tell your supervisor you were going to drop the charges?
Antolec: Absolutely. That was one of the very first conversations that we had after speaking to the victim.
Marin: (Quoting a statement on the matter from the State’s Attorney’s office) “We take these (wilding) cases very seriously. We expect our assistant states attorneys to do the same, and to follow proper policies and procedures. A thorough investigation was conducted in this matter and it was determined that clearly defined office policies and procedures were not followed in the manner in which these case were handled” And that you voluntarily resigned as a result of the investigation. Nowhere in here does it say there was a problem with the evidence. Did you violate procedures in the office?
Antolec: Absolutely not. I think that the first and foremost procedure is that you don’t proceed on a case that you cannot prove and that you don’t have a good-faith basis for proceeding on. That comes first and foremost. And that is absolutely what I did and followed.
And because my supervisor was aware of all of the flaws, and that I did not have a provable case from the very beginning, at the inception of the case as being filed, my supervisor was aware what was going to ultimately happen with the the case. No one (in the state’s attorney’s office) has ever said (that there was enough evidence in the case to go forward). The people that were in the meetings that I was summoned into as a result of all of this actually did say that these were unprovable cases. Their term was “unprovable cases.”
I made it a point to ask questions, and asked specifically, “Did I make the right judgment call?” Because it did seem very unclear what this was really all about. I specifically asked if I made the right judgment call, and I was told, “Yes you dismissed unprovable cases.”…
I was suspended for three days without pay and I was demoted. Salary is not an issue because assistant state’s attorneys do not get a pay increase until they are at 26th and California and they work their way through the office for about seven years or so. So I have never had an increase and it was not an issue of whether or not I was going to get less pay.
The issue was that I was going backwards in the office. They were sending me backwards to a division that I had previously served two years in, and it was made very clear to me that it was a demotion and it was very clear to me that I was being made an example of.
I (decided to quite because I) couldn’t work for an office that no longer encouraged me to do the right thing. My (12-year-old) son, when he was younger and when I started the job, he asked me if I wore a cape to work because I do what Batman does and he wears a cape to work. And that’s what this job meant to me. I was upholding justice. I was seeking justice. It wasn’t about convictions it was about justice.
While these cases are very important and of the utmost importance and public safety is of the utmost importance, so arer children’s rights and so are defendants’ rights and minor respondents’ rights in court. And so is a prosecutor’s oath.
And when I can no longer walk into work knowing that someone will respect me or stand up for me when I make the right decision, and in fact I’m being punished for before making the right decision, that’s an employer that I can no longer work for.
Will the state’s attorney’s office now turn around and file charges in this case? I’ve asked and they’ve promised a response.
UPDATE Here it is: “We are currently evaluating our options as to reinstating charges in some or all of the cases that you inquire about. However, Ms. Antolec’s extra-judicial comments in the media regarding the weight of the evidence in these cases may preclude us from being able to do so.”