By Adrienne Fawcett
One of many questions arising from the Deer Path Middle School sexting scandal is: Who submitted the Freedom of Information Act request to the Village of Gurnee in November of 2011 seeking information on a case that ended with a guilty plea in May of 2009?
The follow-up—and more important–question is: Why?
The answer to who was the first person to request the unredacted Steinert police report is Nancy Thorner of Lake Bluff, a blogger, senior citizen, prolific letter-to-the-editor writer and Liberty Leader with the Illinois Policy Institute, a non-partisan research organization. But Ms. Thorner said she did not tip the Chicago Tribune to the powder keg of information that arrived in her inbox on Nov. 10, a day after she submitted the FOIA request to Gurnee. She said she could not reveal the identity of the person who told her to look to Gurnee.
“I was amazed to find out the Tribune knew about this,” she told GazeboNews on Sunday, Nov. 27. “That’s the thing–it was not me (who told the paper). This is why I am completely amazed. I thought I was the only one who had the report, and that is why many people think it was me–but it wasn’t. I am completely perplexed.”
On Friday, Nov. 9, Ms. Thorner submitted a FOIA request to the Village of Gurnee for information pertaining to John Steinert from 2009 to the present. She was acting on a tip from someone who had mentioned a harassment complaint against Mr. Steinert and suggested that she might be able to find out more information about it from Gurnee.
“Before Gurnee would give it to me, they were very careful. Gurnee knew what they were sending out was very explosive,” she said. She was surprised that she received the information within 24 hours of submitting the FOIA. In general, FOIA requests to government bodies can take at least five business days and sometimes the wait can go on for weeks.
The mostly unredacted police report (the name of the woman filing the complaint is blackened) details the complaint against Mr. Steinert and his guilty plea to harassment by electronic device, including his admitting to leaving sexually explicit voice mails and sending sexually explicit texts and a photo of his genitals to a 22-year-old Lake Forest College student he met at Deer Path Middle School in the spring of 2008 when she was an intern with the Lake Forest Police Department. The cell phone communications began after her internship ended.
The school district officially learned of the charges against Mr. Steinert on Jan. 23, 2009. On that day, according to the police report, Gurnee Police Officer Michael Mann and a Gurnee detective named Baumann went to Deer Path Middle School while a Gurnee deputy commander went to the District 67 administration offices on Waukegan Road to present Superintendent Harry Griffith with a copy of a search warrant for Mr. Steinert’s school-issued cell phone.
The report states:
“Griffith advised he would accompany (the detective commander) to our location at Deerpath Middle School West to assist in retrieving the phone. At approximately 1015 hours, we met with Griffith in front of the school and proceeded inside. Griffith interrupted a meeting that Steinert was in, and I met with Steinert in his office. I advised him of the Search Warrant for a phone and I asked him if that was the phone issued to him. He advised it was and handed over the phone. I gave the phone to Detective Baumann for safekeeping and asked Steinert if he would be willing to speak with me. Steinert advised he would speak with me so he and I sat down at the conference table in his office. I advised Steinert that he was not under arrest and was free to stop speaking with me at any time.”
The report does not state who was in the office at the time of the questioning other than Mr. Steinert and Officer Mann. Based on the report, it would seem that Detective Baumann was present. But in an interview with GazeboNews last week, Gurnee Deputy Cmdr. Jay Patrick said Officer Mann was alone with Mr. Steinert.
Please click here to read the interview with Deputy Cmdr. Patrick “Gurnee Police Say: We Told Lake Forest”
In the meeting in Mr. Steinert’s office, Officer Mann presented color photos of the text messages that were on the former intern’s phone and asked Mr. Steinert to initial each one indicating that it was a true and accurate reflection of what he sent to her. Mr. Steinert agreed and viewed and initialed each photo; he then completed a Written Statement Form, according to the police report.
Dr. Griffith and the Lake Forest District 67 Board of Education said they did not know the extent of the charges against Mr. Steinert because the police report that they FOIA’d in January of 2009, when the case was open, had been heavily redacted. They said they were unaware that an unredacted police report would be available to them after the case closed, and that they believed Mr. Steinert’s contention that the communications were persistent flirtations.
Ms. Thorner said that within a few days after Gurnee provided the police report to her on Nov. 10, she shared it with two local friends and that together they were trying to figure out how to proceed with the information. They learned on Tuesday, Nov. 15, that the Tribune was working on a story based on the report, but she said neither she nor her friends tipped the newspaper, which broke the story on Wednesday, Nov. 16, igniting a media frenzy and community upheaval.
Here’s information on meetings taking place on Monday, Nov. 28, and Tuesday, Nov. 29 at the West Campus of Lake Forest High School on Waukegan Road.
Monday, Nov. 28:
5:30 to 7 p.m. – Special Meeting – Executive Session (no opportunity to address the board)
7 to 9 p.m. – Joint Special Meeting with District 115 Board.
Correction from District 67:
Monday night’s board meeting is devoted only to the new superintendent search; the search firm is presenting the resumes of the interested candidates to the board of education. The open session at the end is simply to close the meeting. The public is encouraged to attend Tuesday night’s forum or board meeting if they wish to make comments to the board.
Tuesday, Nov. 29
5 to 6 p.m. – Special Meeting (community forum)
6 to 7 p.m. – Speical Meeting – Executive Session (no opportunity to address the board)
7 pm. to ? – Regularly scheduled board meeting with time alotted for public comments.