Winnebago County Sheriff

Connie Kuntz

This summer civil unrest peaked across the country and police relations were at the core of the controversy. A northern Illinois women’s empowerment organization is offering a training that could help Boone and Winnebago County law enforcement understand their communities better.

State and local leaders are making decisions every day about the COVID-19 pandemic that are met with both praise and criticism. WNIJ’s Peter Medlin has the first part of our series “The Hot Seat” talking to leaders, like the Winnebago County Sheriff, about the process behind those big decisions.

Recently, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker unveiled an executive order to keep businesses from opening before Illinois reached the next phase of reopening. Business owners could be charged with a misdemeanor for violating the stay-at-home order.

Two Winnebago County sheriff’s deputies were ordered to stop handing out unofficial business cards featuring a skull logo that a black woman considered racist.  

The deputies gave Rockford resident Laverne Huggins the card, which features a skull logo on both sides, on December 1, 2015, when they asked her about a relative who may have been involved in a crime.

Huggins was charged with resisting arrest and obstruction of justice because deputies claimed she lied about her connection to their suspect.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Emotions ran high at Tuesday night's forum on whether the Winnebago County Jail should open its doors to federal immigration inmates.

Sheriff Gary Caruana is in negotiations with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, who want to house immigrants with felonies awaiting deportation in unused sections of the jail.

In exchange for housing their inmates in a segregated area of the jail, Caruana wants veto power on who is housed, the option to withdraw from the agreement in 30 days, and $80 per inmate per day.

Katie Finlon / WNIJ

The Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department is issuing a scam warning.  Residents are being threatened by someone impersonating an official from the Sheriff’s Office or U.S. Attorney’s Office in Rockford. Citizens are told there’s an arrest warrant against them and given an 800 number to call for money transfer instructions. Detective Mike Schultz says their office never uses this tactic.

"If there was an actual warrant, we would be knocking on their door about it," he said.  "Hopefully, they get the warning and nobody else falls victim to the scam."  

Former Winnebago County Sheriff Don Gasparini died Friday in Naples, Florida. He was 72.

The Democrat was first elected sheriff in 1980 and served until he retired in 1997.

Gasparini was popular among county residents for his big, friendly personality. He was an avid hunter and well-known for his wild game dinner fundraisers.

He did, however, gain some national notoriety 20 years ago related to a hunting violation. He was caught hunting on land in Ogle County without permission and fined for failing to immediately tag a deer he had killed.