Rockford, Illinois News

Protesters say they were targeted by police after car was impounded

ROCKFORD —  A local protester says she and another woman were targeted by police Monday night after their car was impounded.

Aija Penix, of Rockford, was a passenger in a late model Chevrolet Malibu driven by Rockford resident Whitney Gray when they were pulled over just before 11 p.m., near Wendy’s on East State Street.

An hour earlier, the Malibu was following a protest march that began at City Hall and moved through parts of the city. Gray’s car was following the march.

“An undercover car followed this march all the way back to City Hall, where we sat in the car for about an hour,” Penix said. “We decided to go to Wendy’s to get something to eat. “Upon driving, we noticed an unmarked car following us, and switching lanes with us. Upon pulling into the driveway, the unmarked car turned its lights on.”

As 10 patrol vehicles arrived in the Wendy’s parking lot, Penix and Gray were informed that the Malibu was being towed because it was involved in nuisance driving, a violation listed in the City of Rockford Code of Ordinances.

“They told us we were pulled over for riding through a stop light with the precessional and march and asked for us to get out of the car,” Penix said. “Upon (us) exiting the car, they began to search the car.”

According to Sec. 17-27.1 of the Code of Ordinances, it is considered nuisance driving if a person operates a vehicle on a public roadway in the following manner: Driving parallel with at least one other vehicle in a weaving pattern (the crossing of two or more traffic streams traveling in the same direction) from curb to curb or nearly curb to curb; driving parallel with at least one other vehicle while one or more of the vehicles are traveling in the wrong lane for the appropriate direction of travel; the head or torso of the driver or a passenger completely protrudes from any opening in any vehicle; disregarding an official traffic control device while traveling in groups of five or more; and while committing the offense of Solicitation of a Sexual Act as defined by the Illinois Criminal Code.

Penix, who was arrested Monday morning outside City Hall and charged with criminal trespassing and obstructing, said Gray was not operating the car in a way that constituted nuisance driving.

“They knew I was in the car,” she said. “Windows were down for quite awhile. (This) was a protest with a car precessional trailing the march, as the marches have all summer long.”

Penix said seven cars were involved in the march. The Malibu was one of three vehicles following the procession. It was released from impound after Gray paid $600 in fees and penalties. No traffic tickets or other citations were issued.

Rockford Advocate is in the process of obtaining police reports from the incident through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Penix and Gray are part of the core group that has been staging an around-the-clock sit-in behind City Hall since Saturday night. They are protesting the officer-involved shooting that critically wounded 21-year-old Tyris Jones last Friday.

Dominick McNiece has been identified as the policeman who fired five shots at Jones, hitting him once in the arm and twice in the lower back. Authorities say the officer thought Jones had a weapon. No weapon was recovered at the scene. Jones remains hospitalized.

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