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Protester in Van Dyke case seeking release from jail

Frank Chapman of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression was among those at a rally outside the Daley Center earlier this week, calling for Tyrone Williams to be released from Cook County Jail. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan once jailed a 48-year-old grandmother for yelling “Free R. Kelly!” during the R & B superstar’s child porn case — and the outburst wasn’t even in the courtroom.

And Gaughan has made it clear he won’t tolerate any shenanigans during the pre-trial hearings for Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke’s murder case.

So perhaps it comes as no surprise that Gaughan ordered Tyrone Williams, 45, held on contempt of court charges — and without bail — when he raised his voice from the gallery during the March 8 morning court call. Williams, an activist with the Chicago Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression, was there to observe the Van Dyke hearing.

On Thursday, Williams’ attorney hopes to convince Gaughan that his repentant client has learned his lesson and should be released. Until the attorney, Jim Fennerty, filed a motion for a hearing earlier this week, Williams wasn’t due back in court until April 4.

“He made a mistake,” Fennerty said Wednesday. “He’s willing to apologize and say sorry, and someone like him deserves a break.”

Others have been less patient. A dozen or so protesters held signs and chanted outside the Daley Center Monday, calling Gaughan’s action a “fake contempt of court,” among other things. The group delivered a letter to Chief Judge Timothy Evans, asking him to intervene to force Gaughan to set bail for Williams.

“We’re demanding our constitutional rights be respected because they’re not being respected by this judge!” bellowed Frank Chapman, a member of the alliance. “This is bull—t they call justice!”

Kit Brennen (right), 24, joined members of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression to call for Tyrone Williams to be released from Cook County Jail during a protest at Daley Plaza on Monday. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Williams’ alleged outburst didn’t actually occur during Van Dyke’s case. The protesters say it happened when another man, awaiting his turn to appear in an unrelated case, raised his hand and spoke without permission.

Just what did Williams say in court? It depends who you ask. Some of Williams’ supporters say he made a grunting noise and may have said, “what?” But Moises Bernal, who was himself held in contempt of court for snapping his fingers during a Van Dyke hearing, remembers it differently.

“I heard him say, ‘You’re going to arrest somebody for this?!'” Bernal said. “The judge said, ‘Who said that?’ [and Williams said], ‘I said that.'”

Fennerty said his client is a convicted felon trying to get his life on track. He’d recently found a job loading trucks — a position he’s likely now lost.

“He saw something he thought was wrong and he just instantly said something in court,” Fennerty said. “You can’t do that in front of Judge Gaughan — or any judge, technically.”

Of course, there’s no guarantee that even if Gaughan sets bail, Williams would be able to post it.

Gaughan set bond at $50,000 for the woman who made the outburst during the R. Kelly case, which resulted in his acquittal. The woman, Debra Triplett, couldn’t come up with the $5,000 required for her release and so spent 34 days in jail.