Chicago Police detained and later charged two men last week after receiving a report that they were going door-to-door, possibly scamming elderly residents of the Garfield Ridge neighborhood.
As it turned out, the two likely weren’t trying to scam anyone, Chicago Police acknowledged Sunday.
The men, who were volunteers for the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, were distributing registration information about President Barack Obama’s signature health insurance program, the men told reporters on Sunday at a news conference outside the council’s headquarters.
“I never would have thought informing people about Obamacare would get me in handcuffs,” said Felipe Hernandez, 20. “I was doing something positive for my community. . . . I wasn’t doing anything wrong.”
Hernandez and Kevin Tapia, 19, said they were near 55th and Archer about 4 p.m. on March 25 when they were detained by officers.
Later, they were hauled to a Southwest Side police station, where were held for several hours, they said. Eventually they were charged with “soliciting unlawful business” — a misdemeanor.
Police spokesman Adam Collins said there had been recent reports of door-to-door scams in the area where Hernandez and Tapia were canvassing that day. The person who called police provided a detailed description that matched both Tapia and Hernandez, Collins said.
Patrick Brosnan, the executive director of the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, said the organization issues ID badges to all canvassing volunteers. But Collins said neither of the two could present appropriate identification and did not know their supervisor’s name.
“A day after the arrest, CPD received information confirming that the two men arrested earlier in the week were employees of a community organization,” Collins wrote in an email. “This information, which was not available to officers at the time of the arrest, will surely be presented when the matter goes before a judge and the case should be disposed of at that time.”
But Brosnan said the two volunteers should not have faced “trumped up, bogus charges.”
“These are good young men, doing what we want young people to do: Work for their community,” Brosnan said. “This [arrest] diminishes our work.”