After months of insisting her driver’s license had not been suspended and she hadn’t been arrested by Evanston police, a candidate for City Council now admits both things were true.

The arrest was for something minor. The flap surrounding it has become major.

Clare Kelly is running for 1st Ward alderman in Tuesday’s election. The campaign has gotten heated, with a political action committee, Evanston Together, distributing anti-Kelly flyers accusing the non-incumbent of trying to “cover up an arrest,” plus claiming rude behavior at a city council meeting and with city staff.

Kelly told Evanston Now that the allegations are “underhanded and dishonest,” and have brought “Chicago-style politics” to Evanston.

As for the arrest, an Evanston police report says Kelly was stopped by an officer on March 25, 2019, for making an illegal left turn at Ridge and Grove. That was simply a traffic ticket. But the report also says that Kelly was “found to have a suspended IL driver’s license,” and states she was arrested for that.

Late last year, Kelly asked Evanston police to send her a letter saying that the police blotter crime report mentioning the arrest was “erroneous,” and also requested that the letter “also please state that I have never been arrested by the Evanston Police Department.”

Chief Demitrous Cook responded on Dec. 31, telling Kelly that she was indeed cited/arrested for driving with a suspended license, and said “Unfortunately, I am not able to issue a statement that the … police blotter was erroneous and you were never arrested by the Evanston Police Department.”

Kelly replied “I was not arrested. I did not post bond or anything…. My license was not suspended. There seems to be an error. I was never ‘arrested.’” Kelly added she would “like the record corrected.”

Here, then, is that record.

On July 7, 2018, Kelly was issued a ticket for disobeying a “traffic control device, no left turn” at Church and Maple. The ticket also included a court date.

A subsequent document indicates that Kelly’s license was then suspended for failing to appear in court, not once, but twice, for that ticket.

When Kelly was stopped again on March 25, 2019, for another moving violation, she now concedes she had a suspended license because “I inadvertently did not pay the fine for that ticket.”

In fact, in an email to Evanston Now today, Kelly now admits when she was stopped “the officer informed me that I was driving with a suspended license…,” something she had not conceded before.

A copy of the ticket for driving on a suspended license.

Driving under suspension is a Class A misdemeanor, with potential punishment of up to 364 days in jail and a fine of $75 to $2,500 upon conviction, although severe penalties are rarely imposed.

As for Kelly’s claim of not posting bond, documents show Kelly was given what is called an I-bond, which can be issued on the scene by an arresting officer. The police report shows a bond of $1,500. But I-bonds are structured so that no money has to be put up, they are only paid if the defendant misses the scheduled court date. The individual is free to go.

In fact, a specific bond document in Kelly’s case explains “Defendant: Your release on this bond does not require posting of cash or securities for bail.”

That document was signed by both the police officer and by Kelly during the 2019 traffic stop. Kelly’s signature is directly under “STATEMENT OF DEFENDANT: I understand and accept the terms and conditions set forth below. Further, I hereby certify that I understand the consequences of failure to appear for trial as required.”

Not all arrests end with a person in the back of a squad car for the ride “downtown.” Explaining in general terms, without specific reference to this or any other case, Evanston Police Cmdr. Ryan Glew said “Not all traffic misdemeanors that are cited result in handcuffing and transportation to the station. An I-bond can be issued on the street.”

Kelly cleared up the situation within a day, paying for the second ticket, as well as the first one which had led to the failure to appear. Her license was reinstated.

Other documents show the court issued an SOL or “stricken with leave to reinstate” on the driving under suspension charge. According to the Illinois Office of the State Appellate Defender, SOL means the prosecution can refile the case within 120-160 days. If they don’t, “the case is considered dismissed.” The case was not refiled.

And that’s where this could have ended. A minor matter which was resolved.

But as Kelly ramped up her campaign for council, she was worried that the word “arrest” in the crime bulletin published on March 28, 2019, could be harmful. In her December 29, 2019, email to Chief Cook, where she asked for a statement that she had never been arrested, Kelly also stated “As you know, I am a candidate for public office in the upcoming municipal elections and this published error has the potential to be very damaging.”

Kelly now concedes there was no error. But as recently as mid-March, when Evanston Now interviewed her for a council candidate profile, she maintained “I have no arrest record.” Kelly said her attorney filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Chicago Police Department that yielded negative results for arrest reports.

However, the CPD FOIA office told Evanston Now their system only includes City of Chicago arrests.

After Evanston Now provided Kelly publicly available documents in this case, she said today, “I am not denying it now.”

Though one of the documents was a bond sheet with her signature on it, Kelly said “I don’t recall signing a bond sheet.”

Kelly said, “I had a well-founded belief that I wasn’t arrested,” because she was not taken into custody and did not have to post a cash or security bond. Kelly said the officer told her she “needed to go to the courthouse” and pay the outstanding ticket, which she did.

Kelly also told Evanston Now that “as a layman, I used due diligence” trying to find out more about the arrest.

But when the chief said “no” to Kelly’s request for a retraction, Kelly, in her return email, continued to maintain there was no arrest and no suspended license.

That was her story — until today.

“I am owning this all now,” she said.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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