CRYSTAL LAKE – State Rep. Jack Franks will introduce a new bill to increase penalties against sexual predatory behavior in light of allegations of “grooming” against a Woodstock sergeant in the fall.
The Marengo Democrat hopes to make grooming – currently a Class 4 felony – a Class 3 felony when the victim is age 14 or older and a Class 2 felony when victims are younger than age 14.
Grooming occurs when a person knowingly uses electronic forms of communication to seduce, solicit, lure or entice a minor to commit a sex offense.
Franks pinpointed the controversy surrounding Woodstock Police Sgt. Chip Amati as a reason to bolster the law. Amati reportedly text messaged his ex-girlfriend’s 12-year-old daughter for “sexy pictures.”
The Woodstock City Council and city staff announced Wednesday no disciplinary action was legally possible beyond the 30-day suspension Amati is serving after two state’s attorney’s offices declined to pursue criminal charges after investigations were conducted.
The lack of charges, Franks said, was a result of a weak law and not incompetence at the city or state’s attorney levels.
“I spoke with the mayor and the police chief and there wasn’t a heck of a lot they could do,” Franks said. “And I have all the faith in the world in [McHenry County State’s Attorney] Lou Bianchi. My job is to fix the law, his job is to enforce it.”
Franks had assistance drafting the proposal from McHenry County Undersheriff Andrew Zinke, who has worked with the lawmaker in the past on distracted driving legislation.
Zinke said the existing grooming law is too vague without age specifications and requires a higher burden of proof.
With the proposed changes, Zinke said the outcome in the Amati investigation might have been different.
“The whole thing is irritating and disappointing for the law enforcement community,” Zinke said of the Amati investigation. “I don’t know enough about the case and we only had a small part in the investigation, but my gut tells me it probably could have been [grooming].”
With the legislation drafted, Franks said he is hopeful he will find support to pass the harsher penalties and more specific language to improve prosecution against grooming.
“It’s pretty hard to vote against a bill to protect our kids from predators,” Franks said.