Crime fighter and rapist? CeaseFire worker charged in attacks on teen
BY FRANK MAIN Staff Reporter June 28, 2014 1:03PM
Updated: July 30, 2014 6:13AM
On the streets, Richard Hernandez was supposed to stop violence as an “interrupter” in the celebrated CeaseFire program.
But Chicago cops have another name for him: rapist.
Hernandez faces 36 counts charging him with sexually assaulting and kidnapping a teenage girl while he worked for the program, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned. He’s among at least nine employees of the anti-violence program to face serious criminal charges in recent years.
Hernandez, 46, started as a temporary worker in December 2010 before becoming a $16-an-hour “violence interrupter” in May 2013, records show. The program is affiliated with the University of Illinois at Chicago.
On April 16, 2012, he allegedly took a 17-year-old girl to a White Sox game and plied her with alcohol. Afterward, he allegedly sexually assaulted her in a junkyard. The assaults continued through August 2013, prosecutors said.
The teen contacted police on Feb. 15, and Hernandez was arrested four days later. He’s being held in jail without bond. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. His attorney declined to comment.
Hernandez’s employment with CeaseFire ended in April, a University of Illinois at Chicago spokesman said. CeaseFire’s interim program director referred questions to the UIC spokesman, who would not comment on Hernandez’s arrest.
Hernandez is a ranking member of the Maniac Latin Disciples gang, prosecutors said. He was sentenced to prison for a 2006 gun conviction and a 2005 drug conviction, court records show.
Tio Hardiman, a former director of CeaseFire Illinois, said he was unaware of Hernandez’s continued involvement in a gang. But he said Hernandez was effective in cooling off conflicts in Humboldt Park and Hermosa.
“You take a chance on these guys, but some of them drop out,” Hardiman said. “If [Hernandez] is found guilty, he should be sentenced to the fullest extent of the law. The focus should be on the healing process for this young lady.”
Hardiman had his own run-in with the law before he left CeaseFire last year. He was charged with domestic violence after his wife filed a complaint, but the case was dropped. CeaseFire didn’t renew Hardiman’s contract, and he started his own group, Violence Interrupters Inc. He also ran unsuccessfully against Gov. Pat Quinn in the March Democratic primary, garnering about 28 percent of the vote.
CeaseFire, a branch of Cure Violence, was founded in 2000 as a public-health approach to combating street violence. Violence interrupters like Hernandez are supposed to defuse conflicts before they escalate into shootings — like a doctor would treat a virus before it becomes a full-blown disease. Interrupters often are convicted offenders or former gang members.
CeaseFire, whose work was highlighted in the acclaimed documentary “The Interrupters,” says murders and shootings have fallen at a greater rate in the areas where interrupters operate than they have decreased citywide.
But police anti-violence strategies have focused on those same areas, so it’s difficult to quantify what impact CeaseFire is having. A study by the University of Chicago and UIC is seeking to answer that question, authorities say.
Police have long been suspicious about whether CeaseFire provides a cover for employees to commit crimes. They point to CeaseFire worker Sylvester Hudson, who was charged last year with selling heroin to a federal informant outside CeaseFire’s headquarters at UIC.
Another CeaseFire employee was sentenced to Cook County boot camp in 2011 for possession of a machine gun/automatic weapon, records show. Since 2010, five other CeaseFire employees have been sentenced to federal prison — and a sixth was sentenced to probation — in drug cases.
In the past, CeaseFire officials have said employees charged with crimes represent a small fraction of the hundreds of ex-offenders hired by the group in Chicago since 2000.