Maurice Henderson knew trouble was heading his way.
When the Chicago Crime Commission recently published a book naming him as a leader of the Imperial Insane Vice Lords street gang, it was only a matter of time before someone at the Maywood courthouse put two and two together “and started some bull—-,” the 46-year-old says.
Thursday afternoon, the trouble hit the fan.
The president of the West Suburban Chiefs of Police Association wrote to Henderson’s boss – Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown – warning her that Henderson’s role as a court clerk at Maywood courthouse is a “serious concern” to law enforcement across 35 suburbs.
As a clerk who transports documents from courtrooms, Henderson has access to sensitive police documents including search and arrest warrants and applications for wiretaps, Riverside Police chief Tom Weitzel warned.
Henderson denies any gang affiliation.
But given his alleged gang leadership role, Henderson’s access to documents used in the fight against gang crime is “outrageous” and potentially a “very real threat to officer safety,” Weitzel told the Sun-Times. “These are undercover officers – action needs to be taken, it’s just improper.”
Several suburban police chiefs have contacted Weitzel, who also leads a west suburban gang task force, since January, when the Crime Commission printed Henderson’s name and photo on a page in its “Gang Book,” identifying him as a leader of the Vice Lord faction.
Other police sources told the Sun-Times that they believe that confidential information has been leaking quickly onto the street from Maywood courthouse for some time.
The allegations against Henderson come just days after west suburban chiefs warned that Chicago Police’s crackdown on West Side gangs was driving crime into the suburbs. They also come just weeks before Brown faces a tricky primary challenge from 22nd Ward Ald. Ricardo Munoz.
Weitzel on Thursday urged Brown to ensure Henderson, who has worked for the county since 1998, has “no further contact with law enforcement documents that could be sensitive in nature,” but he stopped short of demanding Henderson be fired.
Brown’s spokeswoman Jalyne Strong said in a statement Thursday that Brown has known about the controversy for a week and was “already in the process of determining the courses of action that may be taken.” Strong declined to say what would happen to Henderson if he shows up for work Friday, but said that he is a union employee and that any action Brown takes “will have to be in line with the collective-bargaining agreement.”
Henderson was spotted discussing recent arrests of other people with an attorney in a corridor of the courthouse Thursday morning by the Sun-Times.
Interviewed in the Maywood parking lot at the end of his shift, he emphatically denied any affiliation to the gang but said he will start looking for other work.
Henderson – known as “Reece” – said he grew up in Wicker Park in the 1970s and has known “all those guys” in the Imperial Insane Vice Lords for decades because he had banded together with other black kids for protection against the neighborhood’s Puerto Rican majority.
Told that a Chicago Police report from 2011 describes a tattoo of a cane and a star on his right arm that is remarkably similar to the symbol of the Imperial Insanes, he rolled down his sleeve to reveal the tattoo and replied, “It’s not similar, it’s the same – but I was 13 when I got that tattoo and I’m 46 years old with a career and a family now.”
He said he had worked at Maywood courthouse for eight years, “and there have never been any problems because I am respectful with everyone and people respect me – I’m not affiliated with any gang and I don’t favor any one gang over any other.”
County records show he was arrested in 2008 for an alleged domestic battery, and in 2011 for spitting at another man, but that both cases were dropped by prosecutors.
He says he has never been convicted of any crime and that his inclusion in the gang book is “ridiculous.” He believes he was unfairly accused by a reputed Imperial Insane leader who is working with police as a criminal informant, he said.
But Crime Commission President Jody Weis – the former Chicago Police superintendent – said that “independent law enforcement agencies advised that Maurice Henderson was known to them as having leadership influence in the Imperial Insane Vice Lords.”
Weis added that the Henderson’s role inside the courthouse was a “serious concern.”
“It needs to be looked into,” he said.
Contributing: Frank Main