1:28pm 10/24/20 Correction Made to Article - WCSJ has made a correction to this story. WCSJ has italicized the corrected portion of the story below.
(Morris) The Thirteenth Circuit Court on Wednesday, Oct. 22 ordered that a special prosecutor be appointed to examine threats allegedly made by Robert Hendrickson, a Grundy County resident, against Grundy County State’s Attorney Jason Helland. The order was filed with the court by the Grundy County States Attorneys Office and listed the States Attorney as a potential victim. Potential charges listed in the order include Intimidation, a class three felony, Disorderly Conduct, a class C misdemeanor, Harassment Through Electronic Communications, a class B misdemeanor, and Threatening a Public Official, a class three felony. A class three felony conviction in Illinois carries a sentence of between two and five years in prison.
In a Facebook comment viewed by WCSJ, Hendrickson appeared to have made statements that could be construed as threats against Jason Helland. The same comments appeared to include crude sexual statements about Helland's spouse.
Helland said he has received additional threats from Hendrickson since Saturday, October 17 and that the Illinois State Police are currently investigating those threats at the direction of the Appellate Prosecutor's Office.
Hendrickson, represented by Morris attorney Robert E. Geiger, had previously filed a lawsuit on October 19 against Helland in his official capacity as State’s Attorney. The civil lawsuit alleges that Helland violated Hendrickson’s Illinois constitutional rights on approximately June 23, 2019 by ‘blocking’ him from commenting on or viewing Helland’s Facebook page.
The complaint states the following regarding Hendrickson's removal from the facebook page commenting:
- "the Plaintiff posted one or more comments critical of Jason Helland as Grundy County State’s Attorney on the Page criticizing the financial oversight of the GCSAO"
- "Plaintiff has been publicly critical of Jason Helland in his capacity as GCSA,
including the posting of multiple posts on the Page seeking Helland to account financially
for various matters pertaining to Jason Helland and the GCSA"
- "On or about June 23, 2019 Plaintiff posted on the Page, requesting that Jason Helland
produce financial records for the upkeep of the vehicle"
- "My posts on the Page pertained to the financial oversight of the Grundy County
State’s Attorney’s Office and Jason Helland in his capacity as State’s Attorney."
The complaint argues that Helland’s Facebook page is a public forum that citizens should be able to express themselves on and that Hendrickson has suffered “irreparable harm” by being denied access to it. Hendrickson is seeking $1 in nominal damages, attorney’s fees and costs as well as a declaratory judgment ordering Helland not to block the public from the page or remove comments.
Helland disputes Hendrickson’s account of why he was banned from the page. He says Hendrickson was not banned for inquiring about the State’s Attorney’s finances, but for making a defamatory and sexually crude comment on the page. Helland maintains this is adequate grounds for being ‘blocked.’
“A public official can ban an individual from a social media page when they engage in threatening or defamatory conduct,” Helland said, “Anyone who makes sexually crude or defamatory comments will be banned.”
Helland went on to say that the entire lawsuit was politically motivated.
“If someone’s constitutional rights were violated, they would have filed a lawsuit back in June of 2019, not two weeks before an election,” Jason said, “This lawsuit that was filed against me on October 19 bears no merit. It is politically motivated.”
When reached, Geiger declined to comment, citing policy prohibiting commenting on ongoing litigation.