Crystal Lake man with Down Syndrome jailed in McHenry County for 8 days

Man with mental capacity of 4-year-old accused of striking caregiver

Anthony Punzio
Anthony Punzio

WOODSTOCK – The attorney for a man with developmental disabilities and the mental capacity of a 4-year-old is outraged that his client spent eight days in jail amid a system that, they say, had failed him every step of the way.

Crystal Lake police arrested 44-year-old Anthony V. Punzio, a resident of a Pioneer Center-run group home, Nov. 23 and charged him with misdemeanor domestic battery. Punzio, who has Down syndrome, is accused of striking his medical caregiver in the face and stomach, causing swelling to the man’s face, according to the criminal complaint.

Punzio was booked in the McHenry County Jail just before 9 p.m. Nov. 23. He was released at 2:45 p.m. Tuesday to the custody of his guardians.

Attorneys from both sides, as well as the McHenry County judge presiding over his case, agreed Punzio shouldn’t be in jail, but for more than a week, there was no place for him.

“For whatever reason, the people who can think for themselves and know the difference between right and wrong are the ones putting my client in a horrible situation,” said public defender Mark Cook in an interview Monday with the Northwest Herald. “I understand that the mental health agencies – just like all public agencies, my office included – have limited resources, but jailing a developmentally disabled person with the mental capacity of a 4-year-old child is never acceptable.”

McHenry County Judge Charles Weech on Nov. 25 signed an order that would release Punzio on his own recognizance, but only on the condition his legal guardians – his sister, Nancy Punzio, and brother, George Punzio – come get him. They did so Tuesday afternoon.

Cook said Pioneer Center won’t take him back, and it’s unclear at this point where he is going. Because his guardians wouldn’t immediately retrieve their brother, Punzio’s attorneys are working with Options and Advocacy of McHenry County to get him into a new group home.

While in the McHenry County Jail, Punzio was not housed with other inmates, but instead was in a single cell in the booking area.

“This is not what the criminal justice system is used for,” Cook said. “Our jails are not meant to warehouse the developmentally disabled until we find placement for them. I’m appalled.”

The caregiver at the group home, Michael Corcoran, signed the criminal complaint against Punzio. Pioneer Center officials declined to comment on the case, citing privacy concerns.

In 2013, Punzio was charged with misdemeanor assault stemming from an incident in which sheriff’s deputies said he threw knives at a woman. Those charges were dropped this year.

There are legal questions surrounding Punzio’s ability to stand trial, and his mental capability at the time of the alleged crime. Or as Cook put it: “You wouldn’t charge a 4-year-old child, would you?”

Unlike felonies, which go through a review by the State’s Attorneys Office before charges are filed, misdemeanor charges do not.

Crystal Lake police would not discuss the case. The Northwest Herald has sought a copy of the police report through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Prosecutor Brian Miller said he is reviewing the case and, along with Punzio’s attorney, assistant public defender Eric Vogel and Judge Weech, the three “are on the same page” for a speedy resolution, Miller said.

Weech told the attorneys he wants the case on his court docket every day until it’s resolved. Punzio appeared before Weech on Tuesday, clad in orange jail scrubs. He said very little, and much of it was inaudible, but he did tell the judge he wasn’t guilty.

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