O'FALLON — Associate Judge Laninya Cason, a Republican candidate for circuit judge, on Saturday gave a videotaped statement to the O'Fallon Police Department alleging that congressional candidate William Enyart, a Democrat, pushed her aside as she tried to hand out one of her campaign flyers at a parade.
Enyart's campaign denied the allegation, saying he accidentally bumped into Cason.
Cason, a former Democrat who was passed over by her former party for its nomination as the circuit judge candidate, said she would sign a statement asking that Enyart, a retired two-star general in the Illinois National Guard, be charged with battery, a misdemeanor. The alleged incident occurred during the O'Fallon High School homecoming parade.
O'Fallon Police Sgt. Jim Cavins said Saturday that his department is investigating Cason's allegations of battery. He said officers would be sent to talk to witnesses and, when the investigation is complete, it will be presented to the office of State's Attorney Brendan Kelly for review, who was not immediately available for comment. Police declined a reporter's request to view the videotape of Cason's statement.
The Enyart campaign, when asked for comment, said he accidentally bumped into Cason and immediately apologized to her.
"On a crowded parade route, people bump into each other all the time. It's a low-key, fun event for voters to meet candidates at all levels," said Enyart campaign manager Jason Bresler.
"Bill accidentally bumped into a Plummer supporter and immediately apologized, but somehow, between laughing, joking and now, this has become political," Bresler said. "This is the type of ugly politics that people in southern Illinois are sick of, where something as simple as a parade could become grounds for political gamesmanship."
Annie Dauber, a 16-year-old Belleville West High School junior, who said she was passing out political stickers at the parade, said she saw the incident but thought Enyart and Cason "just bumped into each other." Dauber, whose name and telephone number were supplied to the BND by the Enyart campaign, said she couldn't recall whether both were walking, or whether Enyart came up behind Cason.
During an interview outside the police department after her videotaped statement, Cason, who said she was wearing a blue and yellow Plummer for Congress sweatshirt in the parade -- Jason Plummer is Enyart's Republican opponent -- said Enyart came up behind her and said, "I got a T-shirt for you." Cason said she took this to mean that Enyart was remarking about her Plummer sweatshirt.
Cason said she turned to look back and, at the same time, attempted to hand her campaign flyer to a woman bystander when "he (Enyart) shoved me aggressively in the upper left shoulder." Cason said she was pushed aside and, as Enyart stepped by her, with one of his own political flyers in hand, he said, "Hi, I'm Bill Enyart. I'm running for Congress."
Carlous Huston, a Republican precinct committeeman in Belleville, said he was with Cason and saw the same thing as she alleged. Huston said he, too, gave a videotaped statement to the O'Fallon Police, as well as a written report that he had prepared and signed.
Huston said that after Enyart allegedly shoved Cason, Enyart's son "harassed her by dancing around her as she walked in the parade while holding one of his father's campaign signs." Cason also alleged that Enyart's son harassed her in that manner.
James McDonnough, who Enyart's spokesman Bresler said is an Enyart campaign supporter, was also marching in the parade. McDonnough said that Cason had dropped back until she was walking with the Enyart supporters, but remained friendly and spoke with Enyart and his supporters until the end of the parade. McDonnough said he did not see the incident where they came into contact.
Plummer's campaign declined to comment Saturday on the matter.
Cason has recently filed charges with the state Judicial Inquiry Board alleging that her Democratic opponent, Associate Judge Zina Cruse, has improperly heard divorce cases in St. Clair County Court where her campaign manager was one of the attorneys. While no Illinois law exists concerning the appearance of a judicial candidate's campaign manager in a case before the candidate, a state judicial ethics board strongly recommends that judges remove themselves from such cases.
However, the recommendation by the Illinois Judicial Ethics Committee states that if the attorneys and their clients agree, a judge can ethically stay on the case.
The Campaign to Elect Zina Cruse has responded that she has behaved ethically at all times while on the bench. Cruse's campaign has said that she and the attorneys in the cases informed Chief Judge John Baricevic months ago that no ethical problems exist on cases where Cruse's campaign manager remains one of the attorneys. There are about a dozen such cases, according to a recent amended complaint filed by Cason to the judicial panel asking for Cruse's immediate removal or suspension.
Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at firstname.lastname@example.org and 239-2625.