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Kadner: ‘Ashford House Five’ make court appearance

Updated: July 2, 2012 8:40AM

The Ashford House Five looked like a group of punks and thugs.

That was my first impression as I stared at the five men who stood before Circuit Court Judge Terence B. Smith Monday afternoon at the Cook County courthouse in Bridgeview.

My judgment may be harsh. Anyone who has spent more than 24 hours in a lockup likely is to look a little disheveled and petulant.

Some of the men sported tattoos, but I couldn’t make out what they were and that alone is certainly not a sign of anti-social behavior these days.

The five men, all from Indiana, are accused of using baseball bats and batons in an attack on a group of people meeting at the Ashford House Restaurant in Tinley Park on Saturday. They range in age from 20 to 33.

They were part of a group of 15 to 20 people who charged into the restaurant intending to harm a group of about 12 that the attackers believed to be part of a white supremacist gathering.

Assistant State’s Attorney Mike Deno said the targeted victims belonged to the Illinois European Heritage Association, which claims to be associated with White News Now and Stormfront, which are white supremacist websites.

The attackers — wearing masks, scarves and hoods to hide their faces — entered the restaurant about 12:30 p.m. Saturday and began battering the victims, tables, dishes and bystanders.

The first official explanations as to why this occurred did not seem to make sense — that it was launched by an anti-fascist organization against white supremacists. My instinct was that it was an attack by one white supremacist group against a rival one.

But Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki confirmed Monday afternoon that the assailants were indeed part of an extreme group that targets fascist groups.

On Monday, about 10 “friends” of the accused were huddled in front of the courtroom before it opened, some lying on the floor. They refused to identify themselves or defend their friends.

After bail was set for the Ashford House Five and they were led back to their cells, a group of reporters trailed the “friends” down the courthouse hallway, seeking comment. Obscenities were hurled at the reporters, and the “friends” said “all the news media prints are lies.”

I suggested that the only way to get the other side of the story was if the friends of the Ashford House Five offered up an explanation or defense.

“Five of 15,” one woman shouted, implying, I guess, that because police believe they caught only five of the attackers, life isn’t fair.

Another “friend” threw up a one-fingered salute, and the “friends” quickly fled the courthouse.

Assistant Public Defender David Colaric told the court that the five men had not been identified by witnesses and because the attackers were wearing masks and other facial disguises, law enforcement officials could not say with certainty that the five participated in the attack.

But Deno said the five men were caught in a car at 183rd Street and Harlem Avenue soon after a 911 call and police found baseball bats and batons in the trunk of their car.

That could be a coincidence, I suppose. Baseball season is upon us. And one never knows when he may need a police baton to illustrate to an umpire just how wrong his call was.

Zabrocki said the men’s car was stopped by Sgt. Lori Mason, who was off duty and in civilian clothes at the time. She had heard the call over her police radio and spotted the car.

Bail was set at $250,000 for Jason Sutherlin, 33, who has a previous felony conviction for burglary, and is from Gosport, Ind. Dylan Sutherlin, 20, who lives with Jason Sutherlin, had his bail set at $175,000.

The other three suspects are John Tucker, 26, of Martinsville, Ind.; Alex Stuck, 22, of Bloomington, Ind., and another Sutherlin, Cody, 23, also of Bloomington. Cody’s bail was set at $200,000, while Tucker and Stuck’s was $175,000.

This is a strange case not only because the accused and their friends are refusing to offer a defense, but the targets of the attack don’t seem to have much to say either.

The Ashford House is an Irish-American restaurant that on a typical weekend caters to middle-class suburban clientele.

That any group would choose to target it to make a statement, endangering the lives of innocent people, tells you the organization wasn’t looking to curry public favor.

I think the public deserved an explanation prior to Monday on what happened here.

This was no random act of violence.

The fact that a group of people thought they could get away with a brutal attack such as this is scary.

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