Police controversy, a new mayor, the city budget and allegations of sexual abuse by a former Evanston Township High chool teacher all helped to mark 2017 in Evanston.
Evanston elects new mayor
Local business man Steve Hagerty became Evanston’s unofficial mayor-elect after his opponent, former Ald. Mark Tendam, conceded the race nearly one week after the April 4 election.
The two men were vying to replace Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, who after two terms in office, decided not to seek reelection. Tendam and Hagerty emerged from a field of five headed into the February primary to become the two candidates on the general election ballot.
A newcomer to Evanston politics, Hagerty, 48, is the founder and CEO of Hagerty Consulting Inc.
As a businessman he has consulted with several government agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, often in the wake of disaster.
But this is his first time working for the public as an elected representative.
Evanston police controversies
Evanston police came under fire over how two confrontations were handled in 2017.
The first, in January, involved video from 2015 of Evanston police’s stop of an African-American driver suspected of stealing a car, which turned out to be his own.
Lawrence Crosby, then 25, of Evanston, was arrested on Oct. 10, 2015, according to police reports. A doctoral candidate in engineering at Northwestern University, Crosby was driving from his apartment to the science building on campus when police arrested him, according to his attorney, Timothy Touhy. Crosby has since filed a lawsuit against the city and arresting officers, that is still pending, citing false arrest and excessive force.
Crosby was arrested and charged with disobeying officers and resisting police, according to the police report. A judge later threw out the charges.
In July, an Evanston 12-year-old was arrested, and taken to the police station after officers saw him riding on the back of a bicycle that went through a red light, the boy’s father said.
“I realize and recognize we need police. But why are we arresting a 12-year old?” said Robert Bady, whose son, 12, was arrested in downtown Evanston after riding on the back pegs of his friend’s bike July 14.
Police declined to immediately provide a copy of the police report. Documents provided by Bady state that his son was issued a citation/summons for “bicycles obstructing traffic.”
The 12-year old “was taken into protective custody after behaving dangerously on a bicycle,” the police report Bady provided reads. “He was taken to (the) Evanston Police Department for his safety.”
The city now is reviewing policies and procedures of Evanston Police Department and whether a reorganization is necessary.
Evanston’s first homicide
Hamza Hammouis, an immigrant from Paris and recent newlywed, was shot dead August 14 after a confrontation about 2:45 a.m. on Howard Street near Chicago Avenue. He death was Evanston’s first homicide of 2017.
Hammouis, 25, was a native of Paris and had lived in Chicago for less than a month, said his wife, Jennifer Hess, 24. The two married June 14.
“Most people in Paris want to go to New York,” said Hess, who grew up in Michigan and met Hammouis while studying abroad in France. “It was his dream to live in Chicago.”
His three younger sisters were visiting from Paris that night, traveling to see their oldest sibling as he began building a new life in the city he had long dreamed about.
Hammouis, his wife and one of his sisters wandered out when they did, Hess said, because “we always loved to stay up late if we didn’t have things to do in the morning.” The couple lived about half a block away from where Hammouis died.
The man arrested in connection with Evanston’s first 2017 homicide was found with the victim’s gun, which was the weapon used in the fatal shooting, police said.
While the man faced gun charges in this incident, police said at the time that homicide-related charges would not be filed against him.
In August, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office declined to approve felony charges related to the homicide after considering a report from Evanston police, said Commander Joseph Dugan.
Northwestern rower dies in accident
Northwestern crew team member Mohammed Ramzan died April 10 after falling overboard in an early morning training session.
The teen went missing that fateful Monday morning after he fell into the water while practicing with the Northwestern University club crew team, according to a NU news release.
His body was recovered later that day.
Ramzan grew up in Auburn, Wash. He attended Northwestern on a full scholarship from QuestBridge, a Palo Alto, California-based organization that typically awards scholarships to high-achieving students from low-income households across the United States, according to the organization’s website.
Hundreds of students, faculty, family and friends attended a memorial for Ramzan on the Northwestern campus.
In August, Illinois State Police confirmed that Ramzan did not know how to swim.
Former Evanston Township High School teacher accused of sexual abuse
Three former Evanston Township High School students filed lawsuits in October and November alleging former drama teacher Bruce Siewerth sexually abused them decades ago.
A Facebook post containing the original allegations came earlier in October, days before ETHS was to host a 60th anniversary tribute to its popular variety show. School officials said Siewerth had bought a ticket to the tribute show. ETHS officials issued a no-trespassing letter to Siewerth, banning him from campus and not allowing him to attend school-sanctioned events.
Evanston police on Oct. 12 confirmed they were investigating the allegations after being contacted by school officials following the Facebook post. Police said they received dozens of calls from former students reporting abuse by the teacher.
According to the lawsuits, the teacher “made non-consensual physical contact” with the plaintiffs – two of whom filed as John Doe, “groped and/or fondled (the plaintiffs’) genitalia” and “made sexual contact” with them.
“Additionally, Bruce Siewerth used his position of power – specifically in that he could cast or not cast certain individuals – to further manipulate students into compliance,” the complaints stated.
Siewerth denied the allegations.
“I’m not a sexual predator for goodness sake. I’m a grandfather,” Siewerth said on Oct. 12. “These are people who don’t like me because I didn’t cast them. I don’t know why it’s coming up now.”
Asked specifically whether he ever inappropriately touched students, Siewerth said: “Who knows. As a drama teacher, you’re dealing with setting people up, what they should be doing, what they shouldn’t be doing.”
Evanston deals with budget deficit
Evanston aldermen approved on Dec. 11 the city’s $336 million budget for fiscal year 2018, a financial plan that includes nearly two dozen layoffs or eliminated positions, fee increases and other measures officials said help close an anticipated $6 million deficit.
More than $5 million of the anticipated shortfall comes from building permit fee revenue the city doesn’t expect to get in 2018 that it got this year, according to budget documents. The permit fee decrease arrives as Northwestern University slows down a building boom that in recent years contributed millions to city coffers, city leaders said.
The rest of the shortage stems from an anticipated $1.4 million decrease in sales tax and Illinois income tax revenue, according to the budget plan.
Aldermen approved doubling parking meter expiration tickets from $10 to $20, expanding the time motorists would have to feed parking meters and setting a uniform parking meter cost of $1 per hour. That is the current parking meter rate in downtown Evanston.
Aldermen also approved a 20 cents tax on all rides provided by ride-share companies, like Uber and Lyft, through a Transportation Network Provider Tax, and a 25 percent fee on all Airbnb stays.
In addition, aldermen increased the Municipal Parking Tax from $35 to $50 per month for parking permits in city-owned garages and increased street-sweeping violation fines from $35 to $40.
On the expenses side, while health insurance costs decreased about $316,000, union workers are expected to receive a 3 percent general wage increase. That pay raise is projected to cost the city about $2.4 million, according to the budget documents.