The police said Tessah Mitchell was at a day care on Black Road a couple of years ago, which was a problem since there are generally children at day cares, and she’s on the sex offender registry.
Also problematic was Mitchell providing the police with a fake phone number and failing to mention a change of employment, a criminal indictment said.
All of this was enough of a problem that the police obtained a warrant for Mitchell’s arrest soon after she allegedly went to the Black Road day care, and the charges were serious enough for a judge to put a $150,000 bond on it.
The police finally found Mitchell last week, and now she’s in jail on charges of failing to register as a sex offender and going into a school zone as a sex offender, even though the offense that put her on the registry had nothing to do with sex. It was for stealing a baby out of Silver Cross Hospital in August 2000.
This was at the old Silver Cross, when it still was on Maple Road in Joliet. Mitchell was 18 at the time and showed up in a 9-day-old baby’s room in the hospital’s pediatric unit.
The baby wasn’t in the hospital’s maternity ward, which is where you would think someone would go if they planned to kidnap an infant. She had already gone home from the hospital but was back in the pediatric ward to be treated for an eye infection.
It was never made clear how Mitchell got into the pediatric unit, but in court they told how she got out. A nurse hit the button to unlock the doors and let Mitchell, who was carrying a baby car safety seat and a diaper bag, off the ward. Then the nurse thought something was off and sent an assistant to check the baby’s room. The assistant let the nurse know the baby was missing.
A parking valet heard Mitchell’s description broadcast over a hospital radio and saw her put down the diaper bag in the parking lot. The valet chased and tackled Mitchell. When they looked in the bag, they found the baby.
Mitchell went to jail on a kidnapping charge, but right from the start, one of her relatives said she and the baby’s mother, Erica Knight, may have been in on a scheme to sue Silver Cross. The two women lived in Evergreen Terrace and worked at Harrah’s, but Knight denied even knowing Mitchell. Another woman who worked at Harrah’s, Katrina Williams, said otherwise.
“I don’t care what they say. They’re lying. I worked with Tessah at the hotel, and she knew Erica,” Williams said at the time.
“You can’t miss it. We’re on the [surveillance] camera at the same time,” she said. “I’ll tell them to their face they’re lying.”
Williams also testified at Mitchell’s trial that Knight frequently talked with a group of Harrah’s workers that included Mitchell.
Williams said she hasn’t kept in touch with either Mitchell or Knight, that she didn’t even know Mitchell got out of prison. But she still said they all knew each other at Harrah’s.
“We had lunch breaks and stuff together,” she said.
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The police questioned Knight at least twice, but a detective testified he was never suspicious of her.
Whether she was plotting with Mitchell to set up Silver Cross or not, Knight’s sister, Demetria Johnson, said at the time that Knight’s mother was considering legal action against the hospital and had even called the law office of Johnnie Cochran, who had won the O.J. Simpson case less than five years before.
If she ever did really call, Cochran must not have taken the Silver Cross case, and there’s no record in Will County of any lawsuit at all filed against the hospital by Knight or her mother.
Mitchell stood trial less than four months after she was arrested. A jury found her guilty and Judge Stephen White sentenced her to 13 years in prison. He also put her on the sex offender registry. Mitchell’s attorneys objected, but it didn’t matter.
After she got out of prison in 2011, she went to court and tried to get herself taken off the sex offender registry and placed instead on the state’s violent offender against youth registry.
“I understand because of the nature of my offense I have to register for the community’s safety, but I don’t have a sex crime and the restrictions of the sex offender registry is disrupting my living and employment situation,” Mitchell wrote in a court filing.
Judge Carla Alessio ruled the court had no jurisdiction. Mitchell stayed on the sex offender registry. And then she went to jail for allegedly violating it, when she was really nothing but a kidnapper.
• Joe Hosey is the editor of The Herald-News. You can reach him at 815-280-4094, at jhosey@shawmedia,com or on Twitter @JoeHosey.