Category Archives: Word on the Street

Arrest of Ex-Maywood Cop a Symptom of Larger Problems in Town

MaywoodIn another sign that Maywood’s police department is in need of a dramatic overhaul, a now-former officer has been arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman he met on duty.

The disclosure follows a series of Better Government Association reports on the western suburb’s troubled municipal government – including the police force, which has a long, sordid history of misconduct, with officers accused over the years of beating and shaking down members of the public, and maintaining ties to gang members, among other problems, including bungling the investigation of murdered Maywood cop Tom Wood.

The man accused in the sexual assault, Deon Sams, resigned from the force in April as police in another suburb opened a criminal investigation into the incident in question. He was arrested and charged in recent days. (For details, click here or here.)

Beyond the alleged crime itself, the case cries out for answers about how Maywood officers are supervised.

In November, the BGA conveyed a number of reform recommendations to the village leadership, with a large focus on the police department.

Village officials have expressed a willingness to talk about them, which we appreciate. But we hope there is real follow-through, not just pre-election window dressing. (The incumbent mayor, Henderson Yarbrough, husband of Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough, is up for re-election next year.)

For the record, here’s one of our recommendations that may be relatable to the Sams case:

Maywood officials should hire an independent law enforcement/management consultant to conduct a top-to-bottom review of the police force, analyzing, among other things, crime reporting, staffing levels, promotions, resource allocation and training, with a special emphasis on the level and quality of supervision . . .

There are some good folks on the police department, but there also have been some very bad apples in recent years.

The residents of Maywood – a mostly black working-class community of about 24,000 – deserve better.

So do the good cops on the street.

For what it’s worth, Sams at one time had been a field training officer, helping train new or otherwise less-experienced cops.

Maywood is a tangled world. We can only hope that someday that’ll change.

This analysis was written by Robert Herguth of the Better Government Association. He can be reached at or (312) 821-9030.


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Next in Line: Illinois Targets Tollway Abuse

The Illinois Tollway Authority is following the lead of some other big states.

In finding a new way to crack down on drivers who repeatedly fail to pay their tolls, the Tollway Authority recently announced plans to start filing lawsuits against the worst tollway offenders.

Illinois hopes to recoup a large chunk of nearly $300 million in overdue fines and unpaid tolls owed by scofflaws.

Other states are on the same road.

Texas, for instance, which began suing the biggest deadbeats in July. Since then, the Lone Star State has had over 1,200 people enter repayment plans.

In May, Washington state created a tollway court that handles 250 cases a week and, so far, 1,300 people have paid off their back tolls.

The city of Denver is now threatening to withhold vehicle re-registration unless scofflaws make good on their outstanding tolls.

Illinois says more than one million violation notices are outstanding, and over 500,000 drivers have unpaid violations.

That sounds huge but it actually represents less than 2 percent of the tollway’s daily drivers.

This post originally aired as a Weekend Watchdog report on WBBM Newsradio 780 and 105.9 FM WBBM.

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Chicago Tribune, EveryBlock Follow Up on BGA Investigation of Deteriorating Brown Line Platforms

Paul Beaty/Chicago News Coop; Emily Jurlina/BGA

Today the Chicago Tribune picked up on a BGA and Chicago News Cooperative investigation from late 2010 about the deteriorating Brown Line renovation project. The Brown Line recently underwent a $530 million overhaul that officials claimed would minimize maintenance. Fewer than two years since the renovation, planks are warping, rotting and growing mold.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) initially installed wood pre-treated with only a fire-retardant. On the advice of a wood expert and former employee of the federal government’s Forest Products Laboratory, the CTA later applied a weather-resistant preservative to the platforms between April and August 2009. It turns out that the preservative does not work well when applied over the fire-retardant, and deterioration ensued.

As a result, taxpayers have spent more than $350,000 in replacing planks. The CTA ensures that rider safety is not at risk. Read our Dec. 31, 2010, investigation here.

Citizens Take to the (Digital) Streets

This investigation has led to a new kind of citizen engagement the BGA is excited about: An Albany Park resident took to EveryBlock this August to find out how her public officials are responding to the problematic planks on the Brown Line platforms. As you’ll see, a community is forming around the issue:

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McHenry County: A Political Podunk No More?

We used to see McHenry County as a sleepy Illinois outpost; a simple, aw-shucks cousin to the fast-talking, wink-and-a-nod, wheeling-and-dealing city of Chicago.

A screenshot from

But consider just the past few months:

  • The McHenry County state’s attorney gets indicted for alleged misconduct.
  • Metra (long the domain of McHenry County Republicans) finds itself under scrutiny as the executive director is accused of various misdeeds, and then kills himself.
  • The State Police launch an investigation into alleged corruption within the McHenry County sheriff’s office ——

—— Wait, hadn’t heard about that last one yet?

Yes, a State Police investigator has interviewed at least a few people in recent weeks about a range of things supposedly going on in the sheriff’s office, sources tell the BGA. The probe appears to be in the early stages, and nothing has been substantiated.

Keep in mind that the sheriff, Republican Keith Nygren, is in a re-election battle with Democrat Mike Mahon, so it’s fair to view things through that prism. Also keep in mind some of the same allegations were raised a year or two back — well before this election cycle — with a different investigative agency, sources tell us. It’s unclear what happened with those leads.

One thing that is clear: McHenry is sleepy no more.

Postscript: We called Nygren to ask if he’d heard of the probe and to mention what we’d heard. He didn’t take it very well. “This is nonsense. We’re not even talking, goodbye,” he said, hanging up.

This blog entry was reported and written by Robert Herguth. Contact him with tips, suggestions and complaints at (312) 821-9030, or at

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