EPD officers at ‘Café con un Oficial’ outside of Ovo Frito Café on Friday. (Photo by Adina Keeling)

The recent attacks on some ethnic restaurants here may have backfired. Menacing letters containing hate speech purporting to be from judges in the Skokie Court House evoked instead a show of local support, in addition to law-enforcement investigations. 

The Evanston Police Detective Bureau and the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Department, in conjunction with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, are actively involved in the investigation of a growing number of fake court orders mailed to Evanston restaurants, according to information obtained by the RoundTable in an interview on Sept. 23 with Evanston Police Department Sergeant Kenneth Carter. 

“On three consecutive dates, the Evanston Police Department received complaints from three of our local restaurants. … All of these letters had the return address of the Skokie Courthouse,” said Sgt. Carter. 

He described all three mailings as having similar content, which was “disturbing … with racially abusive language.” The first letter, addressed to Ovo Frito Café, 1936 Maple, Ave., was reported by the restaurant’s owner, Zinnia Iglesias, on Sept. 20. A second letter was received Sept. 21 by Kabul House, 2424 Dempster St., and a third by Mt. Everest Restaurant, 630 Church St. Sept. 22. 

The only notable difference between the phony court orders is that “they were purportedly from three different judges,” said Sgt. Carter. 

Officers outside Ovo Frito Café. (Photo by Adina Keeling)

He advised that anyone who receives an unexpected letter with a return address from the Skokie Courthouse should “try to limit their handling of the document, and just bring it to the Evanston Police Department,” where it will be handled as evidence. 

Sgt. Carter said that the letters were “definitely threatening in nature – asking the restaurant owners to close down… Each letter said, ‘you’re going to face some kind of gang actions, or some kind of consequence, if you don’t shut down.’ We understand how our business owners are… worried about that, because they don’t know where these letters are coming from.” 

At a Sept. 24 Café con un Oficial (“Coffee with a Cop”) event held outside Ovo Frito Café in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, Sgt. Carter and EPD Officer Jacqueline Herrera had an opportunity to talk in-person with community members about the incidents. 

“We’re working on an investigation right now to try to find out the offender or offenders who are responsible,” said Sgt. Carter. “We take it very seriously.” 

Officers enjoy conversations with residents on Friday (Photo by Adina Keeling)

In a conversation with a RoundTable reporter who attended the event, Officer Herrera said speaking with residents at the Coffee with a Cop event helped them feel more comfortable relying on the police. Residents of all of Evanston’s communities are invited to join officers for a cup of coffee at these events, where they can speak with officers about any issues of concern in the community. 

Iglesias said the EPD was “very responsive” when she reported receiving the hateful letter. But the experience of being the target of the racist messaging left her shaken. 

“It was scary,” she said about receiving the letter. She urged her fellow restaurant owners to speak out and call the EPD if they receive a similar letter. 

As residents became aware of the incidents, they stepped up “and really showed support,” said Iglesias. “This community, they welcome us, and they love us, and they don’t want us to go anywhere. And I feel it, we feel loved,” she said. 

As of Sept, 24, Sgt. Carter said there were no updates to the investigation. However, he noted, “We’re not the only community affected by this. There are other communities in the North Shore who have actually had that letter circulated to them.” 

In a statement on Sept. 22, Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans said, “Highly offensive documents, falsely claiming to be orders from various current or former retired Circuit Court of Cook County judges, are being circulated by some person or group. The documents are forgeries, and the Office of the Chief Judge finds the content appalling. 

“The Office of the Chief Judge is fully cooperating with law enforcement authorities to discover who is circulating these fraudulent …  documents.”

Mayor Daniel Biss immediately responded to an email from the RoundTable on Sept. 22 seeking comment. 

“These racist and chilling fabricated mailings seem designed to intimidate, and particularly to intimidate restaurant owners of color. We all have a responsibility to demonstrate that these tactics will not be successful. I appreciate the efforts of the Evanston Police Department and other suburban law enforcement agencies to get to the bottom of this, and I ask all Evanstonians to join me in standing in support of those who are being attacked,” he said.

Adina Keeling is a photojournalist and reporter, covering city news, sustainability, schools, and art. She also investigates mental health systems and environmental injustices in Evanston, and puts together...

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.