Four Elgin men who say they have severed their gang ties are fighting a large-scale lawsuit they believe prevents them from helping others find religion and leave gang life.
Attorney John Mauck is asking a judge to dismiss a lawsuit against brothers Elias and Saul Juarez and brothers Ruben and Oscar Sanchez, four of the 81 Latin King members sued last September by Kane County State’s Attorney John Barsanti.
The suit, which was filed on behalf of Elgin, seeks to weaken the gang by barring members from congregating. If the city has its way, a police officer who sees two or more gang members together in violation of the court order would be able to detain and search them.
But Mauck says Saul Juarez was never a gang member and the other three have left the gang. He argues the lawsuit would violate their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and exercise of religion.
“They’ve all given their lives to Jesus and dedicated themselves to serving him instead of a life of violence,” Mauck said. “They’re really trying to help the city and state do the same thing, which is get people out of the gangs.”
The Alliance Defense Fund, a group that helps defend religious freedom cases, has provided a grant to help the brothers fight the lawsuit.
The four men in the suit say it was Saul Juarez who first embraced Christianity in 2007, and it had a domino effect on the three over the next two years with one after the other slowly deciding it was time for a change. Ruben Sanchez recalls getting high in a church parking lot in May 2009 before nervously entering at Elias Juarez’s urging.
“The preacher is up there preaching and it feels like every word was like stabbing me,” he said. “Like it was meant for me. Like someone told him my whole life.”
Elias Juarez and Oscar Sanchez each took a physical beating when they left the gang, but all four say they haven’t regretted their decision.
“I see that lifestyle as like a dark pit, somewhere you don’t want to be and I’ve been there,” Oscar Sanchez said. “Let’s just say I’m not the (most) righteous man in the world, but at the same time I know I don’t want to be there.”
All four men have children and are working – Elias Juarez, 26, at a machine shop; Saul Juarez, 24, at a logistics company; Oscar Sanchez, 24, as a forklift operator; and Ruben Sanchez, 23, at a science lab.
The four say they would like to start an outreach program. When they see people they know who are still involved in gang life, they say they try to talk to them about making a change, but if the lawsuit against them is successful, they won’t be able to do so legally.
“Each one of us had an impact on each other, so we could be a bigger impact as a group going out there and speaking to the youth,” Saul Juarez said. “We know where they came from. We can relate to what they’re living and what they’re going through.”
The motion to dismiss the lawsuit will be heard in court on Sept. 6. A spokesman for Barsanti said the office will file a response, but he would not comment further because it is pending litigation.