At our Pontiac GSL meeting, member Chad Berck described a horrific incident from last May where he was arrested in his own front yard. Minutes earlier, one of Berck’s neighbors living a few houses down had attacked and stabbed him 19 times while Mr. Berck took the dog out to relieve himself.
Berck described the long and arduous process to clear his name, and then get his gun rights restored by the State of Illinois. There are a lot of lessons to learn from his experience as we share it here so we can all benefit.
“It all started over a dog,” he said. He lives in the affluent Ironwood subdivision in Normal, IL. His new dog, restrained by an “invisible fence” system, yapped at dogs walking by on the sidewalk. Among those dogs was neighbor James DeWitt’s German Shephard.
The neighbor, a man with numerous run-ins with police, didn’t like it when Chad’s new pup would bark at other dogs walking by. He told Berck multiple times to “You need to take your dog inside when I walk by with my dog.”
By the second or third time Mr. DeWitt came by to deliver that message at Chad’s garage as he worked outside, Berck said be began to get irritated at someone telling him what he could and couldn’t do in his own front yard. By the fifth time, Berck told DeWitt that wasn’t going to happen and not to come back.
It went downhill pretty quickly from there.
A pattern of abuse soon formed.
DeWitt would ride his Harley past Chad’s home late at night, revving the motor and making lots of noise. That, of course, woke up the everyone in the house, including the dog who then would need to go outside to go potty.
DeWitt would also hide behind a tree on public property to then magically appear when Chad would take his dog outside. They neighbor would harass Berck, trying to antagonize him into a reaction that he (DeWitt) could record with his phone. When Chad called police to report the stalking-like behavior, cops said there was nothing they could do as it was public property.
In the mornings, Berck said that Mr. Anti-social would slowly ride by the school bus stop and use his finger gun, pointing at Berck’s kids. And at Berck himself.
DeWitt also verbally harassed and threatened Berck’s children and others as they played in Berck’s yard. Again, one of his favorites was the old “finger gun” gesture along with verbal comments.
He also did something similar to a car drove by with a young black male driver coming to visit Berck’s kids.
If you’re thinking Mr. DeWitt’s got a lot of spare time, you’re right. He doesn’t work, and his wife supports the family with her State Farm job. Mr. DeWitt has had plenty of police contacts in the past. Pages and pages of them, in fact.
Among the unconfirmed arrests include lots for DUI, open alcohol, driving without a license, and arrests for more serious crimes.
The most serious involved a double stabbing near Illinois State University. DeWitt was arrested for two counts of aggravated battery for stabbing two black males who were with a white female.
Here are some images from the report from that incident. Spoiler alert: according to police, the witnesses/victims said that James DeWitt allegedly ran his mouth about a white female being a race traitor for hanging out with a couple of black males, which DeWitt reportedly called them “fucking niggers” in his booze-addled state. Repeatedly, allegedly.
So with Mr. DeWitt’s apparent deep-seated animus towards African-Americans, would this photo of him surprise you at all?
This is a still from a police bodycam.
LESSON: Some food for thought if the police ever come to the ER to interview you. You have little to no privacy when it comes to bodycams.
Berck said he believed one of the stabbing victims ultimately withdrew from the university and returned home following the attack. After all, one of the victims was cut pretty badly on his upper arm and needed emergency surgery.
There are reportedly other charges here in McLean County in the past relating to a “James DeWitt” including criminal trespass for being a total jackwagon at the McLean County Jail and elder abuse.
But back to the incident involving our GSL member.
Stab wounds that went to the bone.
Fast forward to May 2022. Late one night, after doing the noisy motorcycle exhaust routine, Chad took his dog out to pee. While outside, Berck noticed James DeWitt walked directly towards him with a sense of purpose. In his hand he had his German Shephard on a leash. And as DeWitt came closer, he pulled a knife.
LESSON: Home carry is a thing, folks. Especially if and when you’ve got a mentally unstable lunatic who loves to drink living a few houses down. This whole incident would have had a much cleaner ending with a couple of double taps to the chest and one to the head. Yeah, it might have wrecked a sagging tat or two, but that happens.
An angry James DeWitt kept coming and attacked Berck – on Berck’s front lawn. They fought and thanks to past Martial Arts training, Berck said he was able to take his attacker down. But it wasn’t pretty and before he could do that, Berck sustained a number of stab wounds.
What does an attack sound like? Glad you asked.
That’s not James DeWitt calling out for help.
Why didn’t Chad just retreat inside with or without the pup? Berck said DeWitt was between him and his front door. What’s more, the front door was open inside and if he had retreated, DeWitt would have had free reign to run into the house where Berck’s wife and three sons were sleeping.
LESSON: Home carry is a thing, folks. As is positioning yourself so that your home remains secure if your family is sleeping inside. (Don’t leave your garage door open all day and night, folks!)
Interestingly, that night DeWitt not only had the knife with which he stabbed Chad, but he also reportedly had a hand axe in the backpack he wore.
When DeWitt regained consciousness after Berck gave him a sleeper hold, he attacked again with even greater ferocity. At one point, Berck was able to get behind DeWitt trying to restrain him while DeWitt stabbed Chad repeatedly in the legs while drunkenly giggling.
“I swear that man was a demon that night,” Chad told the audience. “The man had nothing but evil in his heart.”
One of his immediate neighbors heard the commotion and came out. Here’s how he described what he saw:
McLean County Circuit Court
Special Prosecutor Tom Brown
104 W Front Street
Bloomington, IL 61701
Dear Special Prosecutor Brown,
This letter is in regards to the incident that occurred on May 17, 2022 with Chad Berck and James Dewitt in the Ironwood Subdivision in Normal, IL.
I was unaware of any issues or circumstances between the two individuals prior to the evening of May 17th. At approximately 11:15pm on the evening of May 17th, I heard a motorcycle rev its engine 5 or 6 times waking my wife who is battling brain cancer up. It was in an aggressive and intentional manner. I went up to bed at 11:30 pm. Around 11:30 pm I heard loud voices and dogs barking but didn’t think much of it has several neighbors around us have dogs. At approximately 11:40 pm I heard what I thought was a “Help, Call 911” from outside. I jumped out of bed and looked out of my upstairs bedroom window. All I could see from that view point was a German Sheppard running around in the road barking. I then heard another scream of “Help Me”. Being I couldn’t see in the direction of the screams due to the peak of my garage, I walked across the hall into my teenage daughter’s bedroom to get a better view. My daughter had also got out of bed and stated as I walked into her room that she thought the dog must have attacked someone and they were lying on the ground in the yard next store. Upon looking out the window in that direction I could quickly see that there were two individuals on the ground and that they looked to be wrestling around. I then made the decision to go outside and see what was going on. When I opened my front door and stepped out onto my front porch, I heard a voice yell out to me. It was Chad asking for my assistance and he stated that the other individual, who I now know to be Mr. Dewitt, was stabbing him. I was very startled to hear those words, but my prior military training and Correctional officer training kicked in and I knew I needed to help. I yelled back into the house and told my daughter to call 911. I then started running across my yard towards Chad and Mr. Dewitt. As I approached, I could see both individuals on the ground. Chad was behind Mr. Dewitt and it looked as if Chad had Mr. Dewitt pinned down except for Mr. Dewitt’s left arm. It was extended straight out and parallel with his body. He had what appeared to be a fairly large knife in his hand and his wrist was cocked in a manner that he could freely move to strike Chad. I only had about 5 seconds to determine how I would subdue Mr. Dewitt or what manner I would get the knife from him without him striking or possibly injuring me. Luckily as I approached Mr. Dewitt made the wise choice and tossed the knife aside removing the risk of bodily injury for both myself and Mr. Dewitt. I quickly put one knee in Mr. Dewitt’s shoulder socket and the other knee on his wrist to keep him completely isolated. I then asked Chad if he was ok from any of the stab wounds in which he received. I could smell a strong presence of alcohol coming from Mr. Dewitt which was concerning being he had rode by on his motorcycle approximately 20 minutes prior. I felt I was able to help deescalate the situation in the few minutes in which it took for the police to arrive. Once on the scene, I gave the police officer my statement.
Since May 17th, I have witnessed Mr. Dewitt continue to walk his dog down this direction in an attempt to antagonize and intimidate Chad and his family. He has continued to drive past on at least 3 different occasions between 11:30pm and 11:45pm, usually on Thursday and Saturday nights reving his engine. I go to work between 4 am and 4:30am and this continually wakes me up. My wife as I stated earlier is ill and needs her rest as well. It just so happens that Chad Berck’s vehicle is the exact same as mine. It is the same color, make, model and year. The only distinguishing factor is the license plate, which Chad’s is personalized. Every time that I drive past Mr. Dewitt’s house and he is outside, he stares me down in an intimidating manner not knowing if it is Chad or I. I’m not even sure if he knows who I am or if he remembers I was even involved on the evening of May 17th. I’m not sure if this is his attempt to try and intimidate me as well being Chad and I are neighbors. But the stare downs have occurred enough and been witnessed by my wife and daughter to the point the refuse to drive this vehicle with the fear of harassment or retaliation in some manner.
Chad and his family are wonderful people. They are well liked amongst the neighbors and those in our school district. His wife serves as a doctor helping to save lives and Chad served our great nation honorably. This continued aggravation and harassment is not warranted nor deserved. Anything that can be done to make this stop would be greatly appreciated.
The police roll up thanks to the neighbor’s calls.
Because Chad fought back for his life against his aggressor, and because of some of the “inconsistencies” in various statements to police, Normal’s finest arrested him. See, they asked him to repeat his recount of what happened repeatedly then picked apart even the smallest differences. Even with 19 bleeding stab wounds, some serious, and the fact the two men were directly out front of Berck’s residence, not DeWitt’s, Normal police officers talked of charging Berck with aggravated battery, a felony.
LESSON: The cops aren’t your friends. Even as a victim who tried to fight back, don’t make a statement to the police without your attorney present unless you know exactly what to say and how to say it. If in doubt, tell them you want your attorney before you make a statement.
From that point forward, DeWitt went full-on lawfare against Berck, filing an order of protection and pursuing prosecution. Berck missed getting served with notice of the full hearing for the Order of Protection because he was in jail when the emergency order was issued. It then took Herculean efforts to schedule a new hearing to get the order thrown out.
And with the order of protection and the arrest came the revocation of Berck’s FOID and concealed carry license.
Initially, Chad said he got no sympathy from the judges or the state’s attorneys office.
Normal Police had no love for him either, especially when he showed up at Normal PD with the “ISP Firearm Disposition Form” that didn’t have any guns listed, just that there were no firearms remaining in the house.
The Normal cops present that day went “full asshole” mode on Chad, threatening to get a warrant to search his house and to arrest him if he didn’t submit a list of his firearms and who had them. They went back and forth for quite some time before one of the cops finally signed off on the form without any guns listed.
More on Normal Police and their “respect my authoriteh!” attitude coming soon in another story.
At this point, Chad contacted US Concealed Carry Association and their attorneys took over his legal defense. “They were fabulous!” he said.
LESSON: Get self-defense legal coverage / CCW “insurance”. USCCA, US Law Shield or Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network. Or one of the others. It doesn’t matter who you get it from, it matters that you have it. Prudently signing up for one of these will make the difference between you having top-tier legal defense or you settling for a second- or third-tier attorney OR crippling legal bills.
Chad worked to marshal his defense and at the next court hearing, he had a parade of neighbors showed up to testify on his behalf and plenty of others submitted letters of reference to Berck’s character. First responders, professionals, on and on. They not only vouched for Berck’s character, but some also shared their very negative experiences with James DeWitt.
Only then did the tide begin to turn.
A special prosecutor dropped the charges. That enraged DeWitt who had showed up in court for the proceedings. DeWitt had to be removed from court after cussing out the judge and creating a disturbance in court.
At another hearing, perhaps the one dissolving the initial restraining order against Berck or the hearing for the new restraining order against DeWitt, once more James DeWitt was dragged out of court, screaming. It’s unknown if he was drunk then too.
Finally, by this point a judge finally apologized for the criminal justice system failing Chad Berck.
Of course, the Illinois State Police didn’t get the memo. They continued to slow-walk restoration of the FOID card and carry license.
Now Berck has the order of protection against the neighbor and his gun rights restored. He also has his carry license again. He thanked GSL for our help and John Boch for his assistance and guidance which proved very helpful. “John didn’t even believe me at first, but I won him over with evidence and persistence. It is a very crazy story.”
And Berck provided us at GSL evidence. Gigabytes of evidence. Documents, videos, photos and reports. He buried me in evidence. A mountain of evidence like I’ve never seen before.
More Lessons learned: Never, ever give a statement to police without an attorney present, even if you were attacked on your own property. Have self-defense legal insurance. It’s priceless. And find someone who will keep their mouth shut to talk with about your situation and your frustrations.
ANOTHER LESSON: Have skill sets beyond carrying a gun. Berck had studied Jiu Jitsu for a while before the attack. “I owe my life to my Jiu Jitsu Professor Casey McCullough with Bloomington Team One,” Berck later told me. His Jiu Jitsu instructor (a second-degree black belt in the discipline) is his best friend and what he learned from his best friend likely did save his life, or at least serious, potentially crippling life-long injuries.
Looking back, Chad sincerely believes his attack is an evil man. “He was giggling as he stabbed me that night,” he said. What’s more, Berck later learned that Mr. DeWitt had a hand axe in his backpack. Berck knew he had to win that fight that night because his front door was unlocked and his family were asleep inside. Now that it’s over, Berck wonders if DeWitt had plans for the rest of Chad’s family that night.