Testimony in Plainfield Park District board member Peter Steinys' battery case wrapped up on Monday, nearly three months after his bench trial began.
After several delays, the trial resumed with Steinys finally taking the stand to give his side of events on Nov. 5, 2012, the eve of the general election.
That’s the night Steinys is accused of hitting an off-duty Joliet firefighter with a car door following a spat over the placement of campaign signs at Route 59 and Fraser Road.
Michael Carlin, a campaign volunteer for Sen. Jennifer-Bertino Tarrant, said he was checking on campaign signs placed in a field Route 59 and Fraser Road the night before the election when he noticed they had been removed and replaced with signs for her opponent, village trustee Garrett Peck.
Carlin said he spotted a man dressed in black, lying
in the grass near the field. He said he confronted the man, then went back to
his truck to call another campaign volunteer to make sure only the
Bertino-Tarrant campaign had permission to put signs in that field. Meanwhile,
Carlin said, the man in black got into a vehicle with another man, whom he
later identified as Steinys. Carlin claims he was struck with the car door
after approaching the vehicle to talk to the two men.
On Monday, Steinys acknowledged he was at the scene of the disagreement between Carlin and the man, whom he called a “campaign observer” but identified in court only as “Drew.” Denying that he and Drew were active volunteers with Peck’s campaign, Steinys said Drew had called him and asked for a ride home from Route 59 and Fraser.
Two Plainfield police officers who testified Monday said that’s not what Steinys told them following the incident. Officer Jeff Kaminsky said he was able to reach Steinys on the phone the night of the alleged battery.
“He claimed he had been home since at least 10:30 p.m. and maybe left to walk the dog,” Kaminsky said. “[Steinys said] he had been home all night.”
Detective Matt Lehmann said he interviewed Steinys several days after the incident. “He denied being in the area of Route 59 and Fraser that evening … [and] denied any involvement.”
Paul Napolski, Steiny’s attorney, pointed out that Steinys told the truth in court. “That goes to his credibility,” Napolski said, adding his client had hoped to spare the Peck campaign any embarrassment stemming from the incident.
“I would submit that lying to a police officer does not go to anybody’s credibility,” village attorney Joan Meyers, pointing out that the incident happened late the night before the election, and was not likely to have been reported by the media in time to affect the outcome of the race.
Steinys also admitted he also opened his car door, hitting Carlin, but said it was in self-defense — and happened only after Carlin tried to push the door closed and force him back into the vehicle.
“[Carlin] was the aggressor,” Napolski said, scoffing at Carlin’s claims that he approached the vehicle with caution, telling Steinys and “Drew” that he had a shoulder injury and wasn’t looking for trouble.
“This is a guy that runs into burning buildings,” Napolski said of the Joliet firefighter. “He’s going to try to convince you that he’s afraid to approach a vehicle?"
Steinys, who was the only witness to testify for the defense, said he drove to the scene and parked near Feeney Drive and McMullin Circle to wait for Drew.
“He jumped in the car and right behind him was someone following him at a fast pace,” Steinys said, describing Carlin as “aggressive.” According to Steinys, Carlin came up to the driver’s side of the vehicle, smacking a side window with his hand and gesturing for Steinys to roll his window down.
“I said, ‘What do you want?’” Steinys said. Then, he said, Carlin stood in front of the vehicle — blocking him from driving away — while he made a phone call.
“He was … so close I could not pull away without possibly catching him and dragging him,” Steinys said.
“He comes up to the car again and hits the car again super hard,” Steinys said, adding he worried Carlin would damage his brand-new car. “I step out of the car … He’s pushing the door back at me, trying to push me back into the car. He was closing the door on my shin. I was able to push the door open wide enough to step out.”
After getting out of the car and telling Carlin to move out of the way, Steinys said he got back into the vehicle and left. He denied striking Carlin, and said other than pushing the car door back open, he did not make any other physical contact with his accuser. In his testimony, Carlin claimed Steinys chased him, grabbing him with both hands and making several unsuccessful attempts to punch him.
Asked why he did not call the police, despite having a cell phone in his pocket, Steinys told Meyers, “I’m a big boy,” adding that campaigns “do get crazy. I didn’t want to get involved with any escalation of the matter.”
Steinys was not asked about Carlin’s claim that he made a death threat, allegedly saying, “I’m sick of this, I’m going to f--- you up, I’m going to f-----g kill you.”
Since the 2012 incident, Steinys has been elected to the Plainfield Park District Board of Commissioners. Peck, meanwhile, was hired as the park district's executive director.
Judge will decide
Will County Judge Joseph Polito is scheduled to make a ruling in the case at 8:45 a.m. Oct. 8 at the Plainfield branch court, located at the Plainfield Police Department, 14300 Coil Plus Dr.
Because Steinys is charged with a local ordinance violation, as opposed to a state misdemeanor or felony charge, he could face a fine but no jail time if Polito finds him guilty.