WOODSTOCK – Whether a violent threat is reported in the early morning or late at night – in person or on social media – a team of McHenry County prosecutors is available around the clock to approve charges, State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally said.
In regard to threats such as the unfounded social media post directed toward Cary-Grove High School on Monday evening, prosecutors work with police to investigate the situation and decide whether charges are appropriate.
“Police, before they’re calling us, they’re checking out the tangibility of that threat,” said John Gibbons, chief of the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office’s criminal division.
To avoid potentially dangerous situations, authorities take every threat seriously.
They’re not trying to police free speech, but attorneys will prosecute speech that isn’t covered by the First Amendment, Kenneally said.
In cases where a threat of violence has been made, prosecutors can choose to move forward with disorderly conduct charges, depending on the facts of the case, he said.
Felony charges have to be approved by the state’s attorney’s office. However, less serious misdemeanor charges that are punishable by less jail time don’t necessarily require prosecutors’ oversight, Kenneally said.
When it comes to juveniles making threats to harm other students or commit a crime at a school, the way a child is charged is handled on a case-by-case basis, Kenneally said.
Although it isn’t outside the realm of possibility, the county rarely charges minors as adults – but that’s not to say there aren’t consequences for juveniles accused of making violent threats.
When a student at Marlowe Middle School in Lake in the Hills posted a threatening video on social media in October, the student was charged with a hate crime and disorderly conduct.
Kenneally and Gibbons recommend parents talk to their kids about potential problems at school and said children shouldn’t feel embarrassed about telling their teacher or another adult about behavior that makes them uncomfortable.
“These days, if anyone’s going to know, it’s kids,” Kenneally said.