The Illinois attorney general is suing a Savanna family for harassing their neighbor with a series of racially charged offenses. Local law enforcement has documented the unapologetically offensive jokes, with the chief of the city’s police saying he “have never seen anything like that it in almost 40 years in law enforcement.”
On Wednesday, June 1, AG Kwame Raoul announced his office filed a complaint, “The People vs. Hampton” in the 15th Judicial Circuit Carroll County Court against two white adults, Cheryl Hampton, 67, and her son, Chad, 45, for harassing their Black neighbor Gregory Johnson by hanging Confederate flags, swastikas and lynching effigies — symbols of race-based terror.
The complaint, obtained by Atlanta Black Star, is the first time the AG’s office has invoked the state’s hate crime law, passed four years ago.
Raoul contends this historic civil lawsuit if successfully prosecuted, would mount fines on those initiators of the bigoted acts and prevent them from further acts of intimidation.
In a statement, the AG said, “Our complaint alleges the defendants intentionally used the shameful history of lynching and racism in America to terrorize and instill fear in their next-door neighbor simply because he is Black. No one should be subjected to this kind of hate.”
“I am committed to continuing to partner with law enforcement agencies across Illinois to prosecute hate crimes,” Raoul continued. “And send a message that hate and bigotry of any kind are not welcome and will not be tolerated.”
Raoul’s office details, over an extended period of time, the Hampton family’s numerous acts of intimidation against Johnson dating back to the summer of 2020.
Johnson moved to Savanna in 2020 intending to spend his retirement in the small town of about 3,000 people on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River.
The first offense happened in July of that year when Johnson noticed his lawn was damaged and believed it was vandalized “by someone using a riding mower to cross over the property line between his and the Hamptons’ home.”
As a result, he put up an orange retractable fence, the complaint says, impeding the Hamptons from mowing on his property.
Shortly afterward, on Saturday, July 11, his neighbor told him to take the fence down. “Cheryl Hampton told him she would tear the fence down,” the lawsuit states. A day after she made the threat and he refused to do as she asked, he noticed his fence was “cut in half.” Cheryl seems to have made good on her threat, and Johnson called the local police.
“Savanna Police Lieutenant Daniel Nevills responded to the call and spoke to Cheryl Hampton,” the filing states. “On or around this time, Cheryl Hampton told Lt. Nevills in reference to her dispute with Johnson that she did not want ‘niggers’ living next to her.”
While Cheryl and the officer were talking, Chad walked to the front of their home and “raised a Confederate flag on the flagpole in front of the Hamptons’ house.”
The AG believes Cheryl’s use of the word and the raising of the flag gave a historical context of terror regarding the family’s acts against their African American neighbor.
The Chicago native called the police again the same day, when he witnessed “Chad Hampton purposefully spray weed killer on large portions of Johnson’s lawn, damaging the grass,” the lawsuit stated. As evidence to be used at a later date, Johnson photographed Chad while he was spraying the lawn.
Chad was charged with a misdemeanor for damaging Johnson’s property. This apparently outraged the duo, and they started a new strategy of intimidation.
After being charged, a month later, the fence had tampered with for a second time. Johnson called the police on Sunday, Aug. 30, to file another report against the Hamptons.
On Tuesday, Sept. 22, Carroll County Sheriff issued a summons against Chad for a July weed-spraying incident. The next day, Chad, in what the AG believes was retaliation, spray-painted large, black swastikas on a garage facing Johnson’s property in September 2020. The Savanna police again visited the Hampton residence to ask Chad Hampton to remove the swastikas.”
Raoul writes in the lawsuit, “Upon information and belief, Chad Hampton displayed the swastikas in view of Johnson’s property because of the swastika’s historical and present-day association with white supremacist ideology and beliefs.”
Johnson took pictures of this offense also.
“Less than a month later, on October 19, 2020, Chad Hampton was arraigned on his misdemeanor charge. Within a week of the arraignment, the lynched effigy of Johnson appeared hanging from a tree next to Johnson’s property,” the claim reports.
Johnson first described the figure as a “Black dummy hanging by a noose from a tree.” He reported the offense on Monday, Oct. 26, to SPD, saying to Lt. Nevills, who had been following the case, he believes the man should be arrested and charged with a hate crime.
Nevills went to review the effigy on the Hamptons’ property and in the pictures taken by Johnson.
Once there, he photographed the “dummy,” describing it as being a made of a “white rubber mask that had been painted black — similar to Johnson’s skin color,” and a curly black wig sprayed with specks of white to emulate Johnson’s “salt-and-pepper hair — a mixture of black, white, and gray.”
The Attorney General’s office says seeing the mock lynching caused Johnson great distress,” as he “interpreted the figure as a threat on his life and his personal safety.”
Still, the Hamptons refused to take it down.
Savanna Police Officer Cory Drowns went to speak to Cheryl about the “dummy” and she said she had put it up herself. When Drowns asked about the Confederate flag waving on their property, she doubled down on owning it and having the right to hoist it.
“Cheryl Hampton also told Officer Drowns that she would file a harassment suit against Johnson if his complaints continued,” the complaint reveals.
The next day, even the town’s chief executive came to reason with the two about the “hanging figure.” Lt. Nevills brought Mayor Lain to the residence and noticed another Confederate flag in the window facing Johnson’s home and with the words “nigger” scribbled on the glass.
The mayor asked Cheryl why the figure was hanging from the tree and she responded, “she was tired of Johnson complaining about everything she and her son do.”
The woman told the lieutenant and mayor the “dummy” was a Halloween prop, but the officer acknowledged the “dummy” was hanging by a noose from a tree, a lynching. In an effort to reason or compromise with the woman, the officer asked her to change the tree the figure was hanging from and to buy paint to change the perceived race of the effigy. She still refused, claiming she was upset that her son missed work to handle the court dates based on Johnson’s complaints.
Finally, Cheryl was placed under arrest for harassment of a witness on Tuesday, Oct. 27. The officers believe because the act was in retaliation to Johnson’s complaints and the case was ongoing, she was trying to intimidate the key witness impacting her son’s fate.
According to the lawsuit, “Officer Lawson and Lt. Nevills took custody of the figure as evidence of the criminal charge against Cheryl Hampton. The size and weight of the figure required two adults to work together to safely take it down.”
“Based on the size, weight, and location where the figure had been hung, Lt. Nevills believed that Cheryl Hampton could not have hung it by herself. At that time, Cheryl Hampton was approximately 5’2” tall and 65 years old,” it stated.
On Sunday, Nov. 1, Chad filed a complaint against Lt. Nevills for property damage after he “cut down the hanging figure from the tree outside his home.”
Johnson addressed the ordeal in a press release shared by the attorney general, saying, “I looked out of my new home at a Black-faced mannequin shackled and lynched on a tree branch, the N-word scrawled upon a window and swastikas. Our American flag was replaced with their Confederate flag. Have we not come any farther than this?”
Johnson believes this hate crime case, one advocating for the protection of his civil rights, will be a milestone act: “This lawsuit is about tearing off the shackles that still restrain us to this day. It’s about never giving up on the mission of our United States Constitution. We, as a nation, are better than this.”
Each of the Hamptons’ other criminal cases, the weed spraying in July and the witness intimidation charge, remain pending. Neither family member has made a statement about this case.