Breaking News Bar

Charge dropped in attack on Benton mayor

Mayor alleges it's because of 'good old boy' politics

  • Franklin County State's Attorney Evan Owens confirmed this week that he has dropped his prosecution against Albert L. Smith (left) of Benton, who was arrested Feb. 8 and accused of punching Benton Mayor Fred Kondritz (right) in the face.

    Franklin County State's Attorney Evan Owens confirmed this week that he has dropped his prosecution against Albert L. Smith (left) of Benton, who was arrested Feb. 8 and accused of punching Benton Mayor Fred Kondritz (right) in the face.
    Benton News file photo

 
 
updated: 8/1/2017 9:21 AM

UPDATED at 7:50 p.m. with additional comments from Mayor Fred Kondritz and State's Attorney Evan Owens.

Franklin County's top prosecutor has dropped a criminal charge against the man accused of punching Mayor Fred Kondritz in the face last spring -- a move Kondritz says is driven by the "good old boy" politics of southern Illinois.

Franklin County State's Attorney Evan Owens confirmed this week that he has dropped his prosecution against Albert L. Smith of Benton, who was arrested Feb. 8 following an incident that afternoon at Fred's Super Dollar.

Smith was booked into the Franklin County Jail that evening on a charge of aggravated battery of a public official. He was released on bond the same night.

Owens said this week, almost six months later, that while he has declined to file charges, the investigation remains open.

"Based on the circumstances, no charges will be filed," Owens said Monday. "I'm confident these two gentlemen can put aside their differences."

Smith said that while he doesn't want to discuss his version of events at this time, his bond money has been returned to him, and he is grateful for the support he received from people in the community following the incident.

"I'd like to thank everyone that came up and put their arm around me and said, 'We're behind you,'" Smith said. "To be honest with you, that's all I really have to say."

Kondritz, meanwhile, said he is deeply disappointed Smith won't be prosecuted, and the mayor further alleged that Owens did not vigorously prosecute the case because Kondritz publicly supported Jason Drew, who unsuccessfully challenged Owens for his seat during the 2016 Democratic primary.

"Absolutely," Kondritz said when asked if that is what he believes happened. "His family took offense at me."

Owens had no response to Kondritz's allegations.

"I don't have anything else to say about that," Owens said.

Kondritz, who said he suffered a concussion as a result of the encounter, also said Owens' failure to prosecute Smith sets a dangerous standard for any similar future cases in Franklin County.

"If someone comes in and punches a public official in the head, it won't be prosecuted," Kondritz said. "The Franklin County state's attorney is soft on crime.

"I think I've been treated unfairly," Kondritz added. "In fact, I know I've been treated unfairly."

Kondritz said he has no plans to file a civil action against Smith.

"A civil case is about money and I am not interested in that," Kondritz said. "I am interested in justice."

The day after Smith's arrest in February, Kondritz took to Facebook to decry what he called a "malicious attack." Following the publicity generated by that Facebook post, Kondritz spoke with multiple local media outlets about his allegations.

"As sad as this sounds I was maliciously attacked and punched in the face yesterday by Albert Smith in front of Fred's Dollar Store just because I am the Mayor of Benton," Kondritz said in his initial Facebook post. "My wife Kaye was with me and saw the whole ugly mess which I am sorry she had to witness this. Hate attacks have become common and difficult to deal with. This ongoing problem has to be remedied."

Smith is a regular critic of Kondritz and had written repeated letters to the editor of the Benton News concerning the mayor. A letter by Smith appearing in the newspaper the morning of the altercation with Kondritz criticized the mayor's earlier account of crowd behavior at a recent high school basketball game. In that earlier letter, Kondritz praised the crowded gym as an example of "small-town America," contrasting the people in attendance with unruly rioters in cities across the country.

In his published response to Kondritz, Smith wrote that the mayor ignored fans stealing signs from each other and an adult having to be removed from the floor. Smith inferred Benton lacks "good leaders."

A clearly upset Kondritz visited the former Benton News office on Church Street just after 8 a.m. the day Smith's letter appeared -- and just hours before the alleged incident at Fred's Super Dollar -- to question why the newspaper had printed Smith's "fabrication." Kondritz did not respond to repeated inquiries regarding what information was inaccurate before abruptly leaving the office.

In the days immediately following the incident, Smith's attorney, Bryan Drew -- incidentally, the brother of Jason Drew, whom Kondritz had supported for state's attorney during the 2016 election season -- alleged that it was Kondritz who had initially "instigated an altercation" with Smith.

Kondritz said that while he was agitated by the day's events, he had time to calm down with his wife over lunch, and the two of them actually went that afternoon, before the encounter with Smith, to do work at Twin Oaks. Kondritz said that by the time he encountered Smith in the parking lot, the situation involving the dueling letters no longer bothered him.

"It didn't even enter my mind," Kondritz said. "In politics, you just have to go on. If you're that way and you're in politics, you might need to get out of politics."