When law officers break the law, even if it's allegedly in the pursuit of justice, they stop being law officers and become criminals – no better than the purported lawbreakers they're trying to apprehend, and arguably much worse.
Once they've broken one law, what's to stop them from breaking others? And how long will it be before they start using the law as a tool to enrich themselves and as a weapon to terrorize honest citizens?
Thanks to former LaSalle County State's Attorney Brian Towne, we now know the answers to those two questions: Nothing, and not long.
LaSalle County residents were justifiably alarmed when Towne formed the first State’s Attorney Felony Enforcement (SAFE!) team six years ago, ostensibly to intercept drug traffickers on Interstate 80 (and surreptitiously to use confiscated assets as he saw fit).
Madison County residents were similarly concerned when our state's attorney, Tom Gibbons, set up his own SAFE team three years later.
Fortunately, a trial court, an appellate court, and our state supreme court just said no to these extra-legal drug interdiction forces. And LaSalle County voters kicked Towne out of office.
This past June, as our state supreme court was turning the third thumb down on the SAFE team, a potential class action suit was filed against Towne and the county in U.S. District Court by drivers claiming the team may have confiscated nearly $2 million from motorists over a four-year period without filing charges against them.
The full extent of Towne's lawlessness will be presented in trial court in the wake of his indictment last month on 17 felony counts of official misconduct and misapplication of funds.
As a law officer accused of breaking the law, Towne may some day be sharing a cell with fellow lawbreakers who would not be fans. His accomplices, collaborators, and enablers who are still at large should be targeted for prosecution, as well.