Thursday morning, an irate woman called the newsroom. She told me she was upset because she didn't feel the Whiteside County Jail was adequately addressing her brother's health issues. She wanted answers.
She also said her brother's arrest was one of several the police were keeping secret as part of a drug investigation. That got me curious.
Were the police arresting people without letting the public know?
The woman gave me the name of her brother and another man. I ran those names past the jail, and an official there confirmed the men's detention and their charges. Both were suspected of dealing drugs.
I then dialed the circuit clerk's office. There, I was told that law enforcement requested that the court files on the men be "suppressed" – in other words, kept secret.
Hours later, though, Circuit Clerk Susan Ottens told me the state police had lifted the suppression request.
She gave me the case numbers of the drug-dealing suspects – 14 in all.
All of the case files indicated the charges were from 2011 and 2012. They were arrested only recently.
This investigation has been going on for a while. And now it appears to be bearing fruit.
The Blackhawk Area Task Force – a collection of agencies cooperating in drug cases – handled the investigation, and the attorney general is in charge of the prosecutions.
Despite this apparent success in the seemingly endless drug war, no one wanted to take credit publicly. No news releases. No comment.
Why were the court files opened only a few hours after we started making calls to law enforcement agencies? How long can they keep court records secret for those who are already in custody? At what point does such secrecy violate the rights of defendants?
I don't have the answers to these questions, but sure would like to get them.
Perhaps the agencies wanted the arrests secret because they didn't want to tip off other suspects. So now that the records are open, does that mean the investigation is over?
Again, the authorities are keeping their lips sealed.
David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525.