Metro-East News

Trustee faces charges stemming from domestic dispute. Will he lose his seat?

Smithton village trustee Darren Vehlewald
Smithton village trustee Darren Vehlewald

A Smithton trustee won’t say whether he plans to step down from his post — as well as from his position as chairman of the village’s Police Committee — after being charged with four counts stemming from a confrontation with family members on Labor Day.

A grand jury issued an indictment Sept. 23 charging Darren Vehlewald, 52, of Smithton, with two counts of felony intimidation, one count of felony possessing a firearm without a valid gun permit and one count of misdemeanor possessing ammunition without a valid gun permit.

Smithton Mayor Raymond Klein confirmed that Vehlewald is still a trustee on the Village Board and heads the police committee. Klein said he does not have the authority to remove trustees.

Vehlewald would not say whether he plans to resign his political seat and referred questions to his lawyer, Michael Rousseau, who had no comment.

Vehlewald put a handgun to his head and threatened to shoot himself at least three times on Monday, Sept. 5, according to a police report. He also threatened physical harm unless his wife agreed to go to dinner with him. The testimony came from someone whose name was redacted from the report.

Angela Vehlewald had filed for divorce in 2015 and sought an order of protection from Darren Vehlewald the day after the incident.

Vehlewald had two or three handguns and “at least one long gun in the residence,” and he was also “known to keep one in his vehicle,” according to testimony summarized by Freeburg Officer William Donald in the report. Freeburg Police assisted in handling the incident.

Police were also informed of cellphone videos taken of Vehlewald earlier in the day.

“Toward the end of the video, Vehlewald stated ‘let the violence begin,’” Donald wrote.

Near 8 p.m., Donald and two other officers went to Vehlewald’s residence to ask some questions, according to the incident report obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. After police spoke to him on his porch, Vehlewald came outside, and Donald put him in handcuffs.

Vehlewald denied that he possessed any firearms in his house and gave police verbal consent to search it, according to the report.

Donald and a second officer went inside. In the living room was an individual, unnamed in the police report, who was watching TV. Donald asked the person where there might be any guns in the house. That person went to the master bedroom.

“I could see the butt of a shotgun sticking out of a pile of clothes in the middle of the closet,” Donald wrote.

He took some pictures of the gun, and then the second officer removed it, according to the report. During their search, Donald also found “several different sizes of bullets and several magazines for different types of weapons,” according to the police report.

As they were taking more pictures of the ammunition, the third officer, who was waiting with Vehlewald, “yelled to us that Darren had just revoked his verbal consent,” and Donald and the second officer stopped their search.

Angela Vehlewald came and took custody of the unnamed individual in the report, along with some of that person’s clothes and personal effects.

Before leaving Darren Vehlewald’s residence, Freeburg police inspected a 2002 Chevrolet Suburban parked in the driveway. The Suburban is registered to both Vehlewalds, Angela Vehlewald said it belonged to him.

“Officers were able to look inside of the vehicle and observed in plain view a green box of firearm ammunition sitting in the back hatch area of the vehicle,” according to the police report.

One of the officers took Darren Vehlewald to the St. Clair County Jail, and Donald met an on-call assistant state’s attorney at the Smithton Police Department. There, Donald sought warrants to search Vehlewald’s house and vehicle. A judge signed the search warrants, and Donald returned to Smithton to carry out the search with a second officer, starting around 11:30 p.m. on Sept. 5.

Police retrieved 570 unused rounds or shells for a variety of guns, as well as numerous spent casings and magazines, five gun locks, three shotgun cases and two shotgun barrels, according to the police report.

The next day, two investigators from the Freeburg and Smithton police departments met Vehlewald’s wife to get a copy of the cellphone video that had been recorded the day before. An investigator paraphrased Darren Vehlewald saying in the clip that he threatened to “kill Mom and himself.”

Later that morning on Sept. 6, one of the investigators, Mike Schutzenhofer, of the Freeburg Police Department, interviewed Vehlewald at the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department.

“Darren admitted that he had a human moment on Monday,” according to a police report.

“(Vehlewald) denied that he would shoot his wife and himself,” according to a summary of the interview. He also acknowledged that his FOID card was revoked but said that the shotgun in the closet belonged to his son, whose FOID card was also revoked.

On Sept. 7, two days after the incident, the investigator interviewed Vehlewald’s teen-age son, who said he owned the shotgun that had been recovered from Darren Vehlewald’s closet, as well as 223 rounds of ammunition, which he said he used at a Belleville shooting range and had brought home.

On Sept. 8, a corrections intelligence officer at the St. Clair County jail called Schutzenhofer to tell him that Darren Vehlewald had made six phone calls, which the jail recorded and put on a DVD. The investigator went to the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department and picked up the disc.

The following week, on Sept. 14, Schutzenhofer made plans with Vehlewald’s son to speak about the calls, but he failed to show up to the interview. A week later, the investigator spoke with him in person.

Vehlewald’s son stated that he had thought about the meeting but “did not like the way the police department tore up the house and was not going to speak with me,” according to Schutzenhofer’s summary of their interaction.

The investigator said that he had enough evidence for possible charges against the young man. When the son asked what for, the investigator said he would “have to wait and see.”

Schutzenhofer left and went to listen to a recorded phone conversation between Vehlewald and his son from Sept. 6. In it, Vehlewald told him to tell his wife to delay getting an order of protection against him.

According to a paraphrased version of the conversation, Vehlewald also asked whether the police “found anything,” but his son said they hadn’t and that “you will know why when you get out and you will thank me later.”

According to an affidavit in the Vehlewalds’ divorce proceedings filed on Oct. 21, a plenary order of protection, which is longer than an emergency order of protection, is being sought against Darren Vehlewald.

His next court date stemming from the Sept. 5 incident is on Dec. 8.

Casey Bischel: 618-239-2655, @CaseyBischel