A Coal City firefighter said he was just picking up trash on his family's property Sunday when he was arrested by the Will County Sheriff's Office and charged with looting.
Michael W. Barrow, 24, of Coal City, is a part-time firefighter for the Coal City Fire Protection District. He said he was with his wife, Kaylie, shortly after 4 p.m. Sunday, picking up debris that had blown on property owned by her family, when they were approached by a deputy with the Will County Sheriff’s Office who arrested him for looting.
"I was wrongfully arrested," Barrow said. "My good name is smeared."
The deputy, who was assisting with the response to the tornado, observed a man and woman exiting a pick-up truck in a field near the back of the Stop and Smoke Tobacco Shop on Route 113 in Diamond, Kathy Hoffmeyer of the Will County Sheriff’s Office wrote Monday in an email.
The truck left the area, and then the two people left the back of the store at which time the deputy followed them and made contact with the male, identified as Barrow, who had dropped two packs of cigarettes while being followed by the officer. An additional 15 packs of cigars and cigarettes were on him, according to Hoffmeyer.
Barrow said he has no idea why the deputy would have said he was looting, as Barrow said he was at least 100 yards from the shop, which sustained heavy damage from the tornado.
"The building was so compromised, and with me being a firefighter, I know what structural damage is," he said. "I would never go within 30 feet of this building."
The couple were picking up the waterlogged cigar packs and other debris, he said, because they didn't want younger family members helping with the clean up to pick them up.
The person in the truck, he said, was an uncle of his wife's who said a police officer didn't want them in that area, so they headed back toward the home.
Barrow said he saw a cop out of the corner of his eye, turned toward him and asked how things were. The officer asked what he was doing, and when he replied picking up trash that was on family property, Barrow said the officer told him that was looting and arrested him. When his wife said it was family property, Barrow said the officer said he would arrest her too if she wasn't quiet.
Barrow said as they were walking to the squad car, he told the officer, "Sir, I am a fireman, I would never do anything like this. You are going to ruin my life."
The officer's response, he said, amounted to "I don't care."
He said he was on his way to the Will County Jail within 5 minutes of being arrested, and that no one asked him for his side. During a video conference court appearance early Monday afternoon, a judge told him charges were being dropped. He wound up in jail for more than 24 hours, he said.
Barrow was held on probable cause for allegedly looting, Will County State's Attorney spokesman Charles Pelkie said Monday, but there was not sufficient evidence to move forward with charges and the office sent it back to the sheriff's office.
When he was released from jail, Barrow said officers would not give him his or his wife's keys because they were evidence.
"I'm not sure why keys were held for evidence when charges were dropped," he said.
No one from the sheriff's office has returned his calls, he said Wednesday afternoon, adding he wants to talk about getting his keys back and to talk about the situation.
A message left Wednesday afternoon by the Morris Daily Herald with the Will County Sheriff's Office was not immediately returned.
"I was wrongfully arrested and I was a respected member of this community with a clean record and never did anything wrong," Barrow said when asked what he wants the community to know. "And now my good name is ruined."
Barrow said the next scheduled day he is to work is Thursday.