ANDERSONVILLE — For years, women in Andersonville have taken to Facebook, warning each other about a man who has followed, harassed and groped them.
Dozens of police reports were filed. Sometimes he would vanish for a week or two, but he would always return. The man’s photo was circulated widely in the neighborhood. If no one was going to do anything to stop him, women would just have to “stay vigilant,” posters said.
Over the summer, 41-year-old Willie Wright was banned from part of the neighborhood by Judge Donald Panarese, according to news reports and Ald. Harry Osterman (48th). Shortly after, Wright violated that order, records show. In August, he was arrested again after grabbing a woman as she emerged from a ride-sharing vehicle, according to NBC Chicago. Wright was ordered held without bail.
For Kelsey Tibble, 24, each arrest and subsequent release is traumatizing.
Tibble manages Dearborn Denim, 5202 N. Clark St., which is where she was sexually assaulted by Wright in October 2018, she said.
“I’m not going to stop talking about this,” she said. “I’m not going to let people forget.”
On that day in October, Tibble was closing up the store when she noticed Wright hanging around outside. She had seen him around the neighborhood “plenty of times” before then, but this was her first interaction with him.
Tibble said Wright entered the store, came around to the other side of the counter, grabbed her and said, “let’s go in the bathroom.”
Tibble said she resisted Wright before realizing he had exposed himself. Wright tried to drag Tibble into the bathroom, according to her account.
She said she kicked, screamed and fought him off until Wright spit on her before finally letting go of her arm and leaving the store. She called police and ultimately received an order of protection ordering Wright to stay 100 feet away from the store and Tibble.
Wright’s public defenders have argued Wright is mentally ill and needs help.
But Tibble felt as though her case was not given enough attention.
“The first judge seemed so casual and didn’t really seem to take our case seriously,” she said. “I saw one young man get jailed for a whole year for stealing baby food for his kids. And then Willie came up and he was screaming and yelling at the judge, and the judge just passed it off to another judge.”
Police and Osterman, the neighborhood’s alderman, have advised residents to call the police anytime they see Wright in Andersonville. Wright was told by a judge to stay out of the area between the 5000-5800 blocks of Clark Street.
But Wright has been arrested in Andersonville, and in other neighborhoods, multiple times since the assault on Tibble.
Court records show that Wright has been arrested dozens of times in the last two years, for charges that include public indecency, sexual misconduct, lewd exposure, battery and assault, among other charges.
Sara Dinges, executive director for the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has been “in close contact” with businesses who have expressed concerns about Wright.
They have also sent people as court advocates when cases that involve Wright are heard in court to let the judge know people are paying attention.
“We are just trying to stay as actively engaged in order to be proactive about any threat [Wright] does to the district,” she said.
In cases like Wright’s, the biggest hurdle officers face is finding witnesses willing to sign a complaint, said Police Cmdr. Sean Loughran, who leads the 20th District.
“The number one thing we need from the public is for them to do their part,” he said.
Loughran said that means calling 911, giving an accurate description and signing a complaint.
Osterman, who has been working closely with police since last year to keep Wright from harassing Andersonville neighbors, said he has also appeared in court advocating for residents.
“I don’t want women in Andersonville victimized by anyone, especially someone who is a repeat offender,” he said.
In the past, the court has tried to evaluate Wright’s mental health, Osterman said, but the man is unwilling to voluntarily receive mental health services. At his last court date, he told the judge he doesn’t want or need any help.
“At the end of the day our goal is to make sure this behavior stops,” Osterman said. “That has not been the case. If there are services that [Wright] needs, I hope the court will provide them.”
Osterman said he will be in court again on Sept. 27 and every time Wright appears before a judge until he stops committing crimes in Andersonville.
‘The justice system has kind of failed me’
Wright isn’t the only man who has been arrested over and over again for charges related to sexual misconduct and battery.
Cordell Standifer, 54, has been arrested more than 100 times, and dozens of those charges involve groping women on the CTA. Standifer may have serious brain damage which leads to this behavior, according to a report from CWBChicago.
The options for offenders like these are limited — which the women terrorized by these men are all too aware of.
“I got angry because this person is a real threat,
Tibble said. “And the people who are brushing off these women are failing to see our perspective about a dangerous person who makes women uncomfortable.”
Although Standifer entered treatment through the Illinois Department of Human Services in 2012, he was out later that year and arrested soon after.
Patrick Laughlin, spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Human Services, said Wright’s individual case could not be discussed due to privacy restrictions.
Laughlin said the Department of Human Services provides direct services to individuals who are deemed unfit to stand trial, or to those who are judged not guilty by reason of insanity by the courts.
It’s unlikely that Wright has received treatment from the department since records show he has not been deemed unfit for trial, nor has he plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
For people who may need mental health support but do not fit into those categories, the department has other options for them, according to Laughlin.
Services like emergency clothing and food, or shelter services can all be provided by the department.
Wright’s case will next be heard Sept. 27.
Tibble hopes to one day feel safe in the neighborhood again , but she isn’t holding her breath.
“The justice system has kind of failed me,” she said.
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