porn dealers given notice; oak lawn police warn of possible obscenity charges

thursday, october 13, 2005

by daniel duggan, staff writer

five oak lawn businesses were warned this week that selling adult magazines and videos could land them in court.

in a carefully worded letter to the business owners, police chief bob smith says he's working with cook county prosecutors to determine whether the material violates state and local obscenity laws.

"nobody is going to get thrown in jail right now," smith said. "but we want people to know the law and know what they're selling in our community."

the letters were sent to four convenience stores and a video store, he said, declining to identify the stores.

smith won't say whether the magazines and videos are legal or illegal, leaving that question to the state's attorney's office.

"but i would challenge anyone to look at this (material) and say they want it in their community," he said.

smith would not name the publications but said playboy magazine is not among them.

"this is the kind of thing that goes far, far beyond playboy," he said.

the pornography issue was first brought up by village resident mark decker, 36, a self-employed carpet cleaner who objects to the sale of adult magazines.

in june, he told village officials that some videos and magazines sold in oak lawn violate obscenity laws. trustee marjorie joy (5th) asked police to investigate whether laws were being broken.

in july, smith sent detectives to every store in the village that sells adult magazines and videos to buy what he termed a "representative sample." less than $150 was spent, he said.

smith wrote a case study for each store, including detailing what type of sexual acts are depicted in various magazines. the studies were mailed to the five store owners this week.

"some of the magazines are covered with plastic wrap, and the clerks might not know what they're even selling," smith said. "now, they know what is being sold."

the owners also were sent copies of illinois and oak lawn obscenity laws. a cover letter states that samples of purchased material have been sent to the state's attorney's office for review.

a state's attorney spokesman would not confirm or deny that any pornography investigation is under way in oak lawn.

james baker, owner of h & b x-press mart, 10327 central ave., said he didn't think he was breaking the law by selling the magazines. he said smith visited the store several months ago, checked that adult magazines were being kept behind the counter and said the store was following the law.

"i don't want to create any problems, and if the police want us to stop selling it, we will. it's not that big of a deal," baker said, noting that adult magazine sales make up a very small portion of his store's profit.

smith said his earlier check at h & b was simply part of a villagewide effort to make sure adult material was being sold behind the counter, and it did not address the content of the publications.

trustee jerry hurckes (1st) said the owner of the citgo gas station, at nashville avenue and 95th street, got smith's letter and will stop selling adult magazines. the store's owner could not be reached for comment.

mayor dave heilmann said the reaction by the citgo owner was a positive one for the community.

"from a community-values standpoint, i don't think you'll find any disagreement from people in oak lawn," heilmann said. "we don't want children exposed to obscenity, and we'll do the best we can to protect them from that."

heilmann said the village is not at the point of prosecuting people, and the intent of smith's letter is to educate.

should oak lawn seek to prosecute the store owners, it would not be easy, said michael polelle, a professor at john marshall law school in chicago.

an obscenity case must establish that the average person applying "contemporary community standards" would find the material appealing to "prurient interest," polelle said.

second, it must be shown that the material depicts "in a patently offensive way" certain sexual acts, bodily functions or exhibition of the genitals, polelle said. third, it must be shown that the material has no literary, artistic, political or scientific value, he said.

"i haven't heard of a prosecution on this in a long time because it's so difficult to prove," polelle said

for example, if a magazine shows only sexual activity and has no articles or other value, it still has to be proven to a jury that it violates community standards.

"how do you prove that it violates the whole community's standards?" polelle said. "do you take a poll?"

smith said the issue isn't about his own views on pornography nor is it a moral vendetta.

"if you want to say these magazines and videos are ok, that's fine," he said. "but then there shouldn't be a law on the books for obscenity."

daniel duggan may be reached at or (708) 633-5969.

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