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Prosecutor says she quit after demotion for dropping charges in ‘wilding’ case

Updated: September 8, 2013 6:28AM

A prosecutor with the Cook County state’s attorney’s juvenile division resigned last week because she says she was demoted and suspended without pay for dropping charges in a politically sensitive and flawed case. The case, which involved a downtown “wilding,” garnered negative media attention.

The term “wilding” entered Chicago’s lexicon in recent years to generally describe groups of youths who harass, rob and terrorize people in the Loop and on the Magnificent Mile, two of the city’s biggest tourism draws.

Sonia Antolec, 30, told the Chicago Sun-Times that one such case ended up on her desk in early April. She said police paperwork indicated that a woman who had been mugged while riding a CTA Red Line train with her mother near Lake Street had been able to identify the girls who attacked her shortly after the incident. Antolec approved charges against the girls, all minors.

But the case fell apart when Antolec interviewed the victims, who told her something surprising that was not indicated in police reports about how the muggers were identified.

Police had lined the girls up against a wall with their backs facing the victims. “The victims were asked to identify them from behind,” Antolec recalled.

The daughter, who told Antolec she felt pressured by police to make an identification, said a pink hoodie one of the girls had on seemed to match one worn by a mugger, Antolec said.

Video-surveillance recordings were no help either, she said. “None of the eight girls were identified in any legitimate manner,” said Antolec, who dropped the charges against all eight girls on July 10, the date their trial was set to begin.

When contacted Wednesday, Chicago Police spokesman Adam Collins disputed this.

“The victims identified the offenders by face with officers, and then confirmed that they had identified the offenders in a separate interview with detectives. Proper and standard procedures were handled by our officers,” Collins said.

A week after Antolec dropped the cases, she said an anonymous posting to an Internet blog questioned why the charges had been dropped. A few days passed before Antolec’s superiors called her into a meeting.

“My division chief asked me why I dismissed these cases. She said we were getting ‘bad press.’ ” Antolec said.

On July 26, Antolec said she was again summoned before her bosses.

“My bureau chief wanted to make sure I understood that I was employed by the grace of the state’s attorney and was trying to get me to say that I ignored a policy of notifying a supervisor when I dismissed a felony case,” Antolec said. “I didn’t notify my supervisor the day I dismissed the case. I told him ahead of time I was going to do it.”

Despite the fact that her supervisor backed her up, she said she was told that the “executive staff wanted her fired and the only reason I still had a job was because my division chief stood up for me and said I had talent and an unblemished record.” Antolec was demoted and suspended without pay for three days.

She resigned on Aug. 1. In her resignation letter to Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, Antolec said: “While it pains me to say it, the Office’s response ultimately means that the Assistant State’s Attorneys are no longer encouraged to do the right thing first and foremost. With that shift in priorities, it is time that my service comes to an end.”

Sally Daly, spokesman for Anita Alvarez’s office, issued this statement Tuesday afternoon: “A thorough investigation was conducted into this matter and it was determined that clearly defined office policies and procedures were not followed in the manner in which these cases were handled. The law does not permit us to comment beyond that. The Assistant State’s Attorney in question voluntarily resigned from this office at the conclusion of that investigation.”

A source at the state’s attorney’s office confirms that Antolec, who graduated from Loyola University Chicago’s law school in 2007 and had served at the state’s attorney’s office for six years at a $63,000-a-year salary, was held in high regard by colleagues and had a solid record on the job.

“I was an ASA who made the right choice. They could have used that for positive press. Unfortunately there’s 900 other ASAs who are going to be left second-guessing their judgment.”

She said she wanted to share her story to help effect change at the office.

Antolec, a single mother of a 12-year-old son, said he equated her former job to that of a super hero. “He’d ask me if I wear a cape to work because Batman wears a cape to work and he helps people too. And that’s what I thought my job meant the whole time, but when it became clear to me that it was no longer about doing the right thing, I could no longer look him in the eye and feel proud about what I was doing.”

Twitter: @mitchdudek

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