Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a statement from the Evanston Police Department.
The Evanston Public Library security guard and off-duty police officer who got into a physical altercation with a man at the main branch of the library on Jan. 9 has resigned as a patrol officer with the Niles Police Department, according to documents obtained by the RoundTable through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Reports from Niles Police show that Abah Antonio was involved in 11 documented incidents in a one-year period from December 2021 through December 2022, including six uses of force, three vehicle accidents and two vehicle pursuits.
During several of those situations, Antonio pointed his gun at people, failed to follow body camera protocols and gave conflicting stories about the incidents, Niles Police records reveal. On Jan. 31, 2023, Niles Deputy Chief Joseph P. Romano wrote in a message to Niles Police Chief Luis C. Tigera that 10 or more incidents in one calendar year warrants a performance review.
After reviewing video footage of the Jan. 9 incident at the Evanston library, Niles Police Commander Kelly Eckardt recommended that NPD fire Antonio because of “blatant disregard for firearm safety,” including putting his finger on the trigger multiple times, pointing his gun at multiple people who were not the suspect and holding the gun with only one hand, against police requirements.
“The incident happened at a public library in which people of all age, including young children, frequent. If he [Antonio] continued to train his firearm on the suspect, there is potential, if he fired, to hit many innocent bystanders,” Eckardt wrote in her report. “From the video alone, it shows Ofc. Antonio’s gun was pointed at multiple patrons as he followed the suspect around, some of who were ducking to stay out of the way.”
Eckardt and other NPD officials also wrote that Antonio had pointed a gun at someone less than two months before the library incident during a traffic stop. “I am concerned he did not learn from the last incident,” she said in the report.
But, before NPD could act on Eckardt’s recommendation, Antonio resigned from the department due to “personal reasons” on Feb. 1, Niles Deputy Chief Nicholas Zakula said.
In a separate review of the library incident conducted by Evanston officials, the city determined that Antonio had violated the City of Evanston Weapons Free Workplace policy by carrying his police-issued gun during his security guard shift at the library.
Despite having access to the same video footage that led to Eckardt recommending termination for Antonio, the Evanston city manager’s office and Evanston Police Chief Schenita Stewart recommended only a one-day suspension for Antonio from his library security position, according to a Jan. 25 email from city Human Resources Specialist Jennifer Clough to interim EPL Executive Director Heather Norborg.
And, on Jan. 27, Antonio signed a disciplinary action form agreeing to forfeit four hours of vacation time in lieu of a suspension, which the city allowed.
“The chief did provide advice and insight during the city’s review of this incident, but ultimately, with regards to Niles Police and the library, the Niles Police Department makes their independent decision of Officer Antonio’s employment status based on their job description and his job performance there, and the same goes for the library,” EPD Commander Ryan Glew said in a statement to the RoundTable on Thursday, March 9.
Both Niles Police and EPL had to decide on Antonio’s future with their own respective agencies depending on Antonio’s past conduct and the different duties required of him in the two positions, Glew said. In this case, Evanston city and police leadership, along with the library staff, settled on a one-shift suspension.
In addition, emails between Norborg, Clough and other Evanston HR staff show that all city employees had to view and acknowledge the city’s employee handbook through an online platform between Aug. 1 and Aug. 31, 2022. Antonio never completed the online acknowledgement despite multiple reminders from his managers at the library and in the HR department, according to those emails.
Evanston Patch previously reported that Antonio was an Evanston police officer from January 2018 through January 2020 before resigning and later joining the Niles Police in July 2021. During his time with EPD, Antonio was disciplined four times for violations like failing to turn on his body camera and improperly investigating various incidents.
During the incident at the library in January of this year, Antonio drew his gun after being punched and kicked by 31-year-old Milton Altamirano-Sanchez, who was later charged with aggravated battery of an off-duty police officer. Altamirano-Sanchez told investigators he was homeless, and he admitted to throwing wooden chairs at Antonio during the altercation.
“The unarmed suspect [Altamirano-Sanchez] was walking away, was no longer an immediate threat to Officer Antonio and was not aggressive towards any patrons” when Antonio drew his gun at the library on Jan. 9, NPD’s Eckardt wrote in her report. “Antonio broke the basic rules of firearm safety and handled his weapon in an extremely dangerous manner.”
EPL Marketing and Communications Manager Jenette Sturges told the RoundTable that the library is taking steps in response to the incident.
“We are taking the community’s concerns regarding this incident seriously and are taking a multi-pronged approach to improving safety while also maintaining a welcoming environment,” Sturges said in an email. “This incident is not just about weapons but about our approach to safety for everyone in the library.”
The library is reviewing its de-escalation and crisis response training for staff members, Sturges said, with plans to require more frequent training. Library leadership also reminded all employees that EPL is a weapons-free zone, with exceptions only for on-duty police and animal control officers.
Previously, EPL had a full-time social worker on-site at the main branch through a contract with Ascension that has since expired. Sturges said library officials are exploring options for bringing a social worker back through other partnerships.
Meanwhile, Antonio remains employed as a security officer at the EPL main branch on Orrington Avenue.
Agree with all of the comments noted here. I also think it is worth considering that people who already have access to firearms and lose multiple employment opportunities can become more desperate and lash out against their communities in violent ways, which is also concerning for our safety. If EPL is unwilling to terminate Mr. Antonio’s employment, perhaps it is prudent to consider mandated therapy as a requirement of his continued employment.
I am at a complete loss for how the EPL can continue to employ this security guard. My daughter frequently visits the downtown library and I no longer feel safe having her do so.
1. He should never have been hired given his record at EPD.
2. He should not have had his gun at the library.
3. The patron was no longer a threat when he pulled his gun.
4. He put his finger on the trigger multiple times and held the gun with one hand!
5. He pointed the gun at innocent bystanders!!!
There are some decisions that are so unsafe that they require a person never be in the position to make the same mistake twice. Given his record, he has been given the opportunity to make similar mistakes many times! This is unacceptable! He was more of a danger to the patrons there that day than the patron who was charged with a crime! Yet he can keep his job and potentially cause this harm again? What will it take for the EPL to determine he should lose his job? Must someone be physically hurt by him? I demand the EPL fire this security guard immediately.
Thank you, Mr. Agnew and all of the others here who have commented in an attempt to hold our library and city leaders accountable for lack of action in maintaining a gun free zone. I am disgusted that Mr. Antonio remains employed by EPL after clearly endangering lives of many when he was supposedly hired to make the community feel “secure.” Did anyone check with his previous employers, including EPD, before hiring him? While most termination decisions are understandably made in consideration of work history and performance, certain actions ought to be immediate grounds for termination. Pulling out and aiming an unauthorized weapon while in a public building is a serious safety threat to all and a demonstration of incredibly poor/erratic judgement. The message that is being sent by keeping Mr. Antonio on staff is appalling. The library is supposed to be a safe place for all. At this time, because Mr. Antonio is still employed, I am not willing to risk the lives of my kids or myself by visiting the EPL. Our ability to access an important community resource is severely compromised. I demand Mr. Antonio’s immediate termination and the re-institution of a social work partnership. Our community and our library patrons deserve safety.
Agree with Jarrett and Maria! This very informative and well-researched article sheds a lot of light on what happened on January 9th. Mr. Antonio drew his (unauthorized) weapon as the attacker was walking away and presenting no further threat to him or to patrons. So Mr. Antonio unnecessarily endangered and terrorized staff and patrons—including young children who are now experiencing trauma symptoms (see the comment thread here for 3 eyewitness accounts).
EPL administrators: You have a lot to answer for in your decision to hire and continue to employ for over 6 years a person who has a demonstrated history of public safety violations in two local police departments, and who did not complete your own mandatory EPL employee handbook requirement. Where is the admission of your culpability here? EPL, you owe us a comprehensive and transparent safety plan, probably with community and expert input, in order to regain the trust of the Evanston community. Please tell us more about the safety plan you’re working on to prevent future incidents, and to protect patrons and library staff. Here are two starter ideas: 1) Do not hire police officers—current or ex—as security personnel in the Library. Excessive use of force is rampant in police culture, and seems to be a very difficult mindset to overcome. 2) Fast-track the social worker hire so that there can be relationship-building and resources at the ready when the next person who has fallen through our social services net (such as people experiencing homelessness, mental illness, or lack of proper medical care) lies down in pain on the Library floor. Please do not wait until tragedy strikes; this incident should serve as a major catalyst for brave, meaningful action.
I share all of your feelings about this, Maria. I do not understand Mr. Antonio’s continued employment. HE PUT PATRONS’ LIVES AT RISK WHILE HANDLING A GUN AT THE LIBRARY. He has proven too reckless and unprofessional to remain employed by the Niles Police force, but not too reckless and unprofessional for our library (even after potentially accidentally shooting patrons at the library). How does he remain on staff responsible for patron safety? This is inexplicable and outrageous.
Preventing gun violence depends in part on holding people accountable when they are reckless with firearms and when they violate firearm policies.
Thank you to Duncan Agnew for this very informative article. I commend him for his efforts to inform the public. Unfortunately, I am not as impressed with City of Evanston staff, EPD leadership or EPL staff and their responses to the 1/9/23 incident involving Abah Antonio. I have very serious concerns about Mr. Antonio’s continued employment as a security guard with EPL. Not only did Mr. Antonio violate Evanston’s “Weapons-Free Workplace Policy” but his interpersonal de-escalation skills were incredibly poor and seemed to precipitate a violent outburst from the library patron. Per the Niles Police Department Commander’s review of the EPL incident (viewed for separate personnel purposes), Mr. Antonio “broke the basic rules firearm safety and handled his weapon in an extremely dangerous manner”. And finally, per emails between Heather Norberg, Interim Director of EPL and Evanston HR staff, Mr. Antonio did not complete an online acknowledgment that required City employees to view the City’s Employee Handbook; per Mr. Duncan’s article, this occurred despite multiple reminders from EPL managers and the City HR Dept.
Per the EPL Marketing and Communication Manager, EPL “is taking steps in response to the incident” and reviewing their de-escalation and crisis response training. I question the efficacy of this “multi-pronged approach” to improving safety especially if employees do not actively acknowledge viewing the materials as was the case with Mr. Antonio and the City Employee Handbook.
And in conclusion, I am also extremely concerned about the expired Ascension contract for a full-time social worker at EPL. It’s unclear how this came to be and why no alternative plans were made to bring a social worker to the EPL. Providing continuity of care is a central tenet of social work care, and although we don’t know how the lack of a FT social work employee impacted the 1/9/23 incident, we do know that this is not best practice.
As a concerned Evanston resident and a volunteer gun violence prevention activist, I plan to pursue ongoing communication with EPL staff about safety issues at EPL. In terms of Mr. Antonio’s ongoing employment at EPL, I’m concerned about his sense of responsibility, his ability to use good judgment and non-violent interpersonal skills as a security guard. And at this point, I’m also concerned about the City, the EPD and the EPL use of good judgment in their decision to continue to employ Mr. Antonio as an EPL security guard.
Maria, your comment is on point. Totally agree.
Maria: Could not have said this better myself! And Mr. Agnew has hit it out of the park with this story. Thank you both!