Mayor refuses request to discuss police brutality claims

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By SETH STERN

Mayor Anthony Calderone denied a request last week from Commissioner Patrick Doolin to hold a closed session meeting of the village council to discuss hiring a private investigator to look into several allegations of past police brutality that have arisen during the termination hearing of Sgt. Dan Harder.

Calderone said that though the allegations may be investigated at some point in the future, it would be "irresponsible" to hire someone to look into them before the Harder matter has been concluded and both the complete set of allegations and the corresponding cross examinations have been heard.

"I'm not going to start witch hunts based on one night of testimony…I want to let this process continue a little bit first. Then I'll take a look at the transcripts at that point in time and have conversation with the Chief of Police to find out what really happened. To do it now is crazy," he said.

Doolin's request came in the form of a letter to the village council, dated Dec. 13, in which he urged commissioners not to "hide behind the claim of 'pending litigation'" or "invoke an ostrich defense by placing our heads in the sand."

Doolin wrote that based on the information he has received as well as the testimony he has witnessed at the hearings, "the time has come for this council to take pro-active measures on this issue."

Officer testimony

Though much of the testimony has been thrown out by Board of Fire and Police Commission Attorney Charles Hervas due to relevancy issues, several officers have acknowledged concerns about police brutality when questioned by Harder's attorney Jeanine Stevens during two recent hearings.

On Dec. 8, Lt. Steve Johnsen testified that two officers wrote a memo to Harder, which was passed along to him, reporting that Paul Cruikshank, the alleged "Wrigleyville Rapist," had told investigators that he had been abused while handcuffed in the back of a Forest Park police car.

Cruikshank never filed an official complaint following the alleged incident.

Johnsen also testified that Harder had written a memo to Lt. Steve Knack alleging that he witnessed Officer Jason Keeling slamming a handcuffed juvenile's head into a gate outside the police station during a 2003 arrest. Johnsen said he did not know whether the incidents were investigated, but stated that "there have been several incidents of police brutality that either went uninvestigated or under-investigated."

Calderone expressed skepticism of Johnsen's testimony, noting that Johnsen may have a "skewed outlook" due to his disappointment at not being named police chief when the position was open in 2003. He questioned how Johnsen would know if brutality investigations in fact went uninvestigated since the investigations would have been conducted by the chief.

Calderone also questioned whether Doolin's outlook was similarly skewed by his status as Johnsen's longtime partner in the real estate business.

The village has not yet provided the Review with details of past investigations, and Village Administrator Michael Sturino has said the village will wait until the Harder matter is concluded to do so.

Sturino and Calderone have both said all allegations of misconduct by village personnel are investigated, but noted that there are several different levels of investigation.

In a previous hearing, held Dec. 1, several officers including Officer Tom Hall and Lt. Steve Weiler testified that they had been concerned by Sgt. Mike Murphy's temper and alleged mistreatment of prisoners. Officer Michael O'Connor acknowledged that officers on the department's midnight shift refer to the 45 minutes that Murphy's shift intersects with theirs as the "bewitching hour."

Murphy and the village were sued in 2004 by Sydney Hooks, who claimed that Murphy had broken his wrist and sprayed him in the eyes with a chemical agent during a 2003 arrest. The suit was later settled out of court.

The allegations that have arisen during the hearings, along with several others, appear in a complaint that Harder's attorneys have filed with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging that Harder was discriminated against for his willingness to "blow the whistle" on police brutality, as well as his participation in a 2002 sexual harassment lawsuit against the police department.

If the EEOC finds Harder's complaints credible, the agency will likely issue a letter granting him permission to sue the village for discrimination, though sources say this process often takes several months, if not years.

"We've seen firsthand what civil litigation costs the taxpayers of this village. I'm concerned that the village is just settling brutality lawsuits without conducting any internal investigation within the department," said Doolin.

Calderone said that though the allegations have sparked his curiosity, he would prefer to wait "until we know what we're investigating" before taking the next step.

"I don't want to piecemeal the approach. I don't want to go back to the chief eight times when I could have done it once," he said, noting that further allegations may surface at future hearings, or cross examination may reveal that the incidents have already been investigated.

Blogger causes a stir

Doolin's request followed a letter to Sturino by blogger and monthly Review opinion columnist Carl Nyberg in which Nyberg threatened to report the allegations of prisoner abuse to the Department of Justice unless the village began an investigation.

"If Harder's allegations are lies, Forest Park should be firing him for lying about other police officers. If Harder's allegations are true, Forest Park looks completely venal firing an honest cop for inconvenient sick days while turning a blind eye to more serious abuses," wrote Nyberg.

The charges for which the village is attempting to terminate Harder include taking excessive sick days, lying to Ryan regarding his whereabouts on one particular sick day, swearing at a subordinate officer and fabricating a story of an altercation with Murphy during which Murphy allegedly threatened him.

After receiving a response from Sturino stating that though all allegations of misconduct are investigated, the village cannot comment on matters currently pending litigation, Nyberg wrote a second letter to Doolin containing a list of questions for the village.

Doolin attached Nyberg's letter to his letter to the commissioners.

Calderone called Nyberg's conduct "reckless." "We can't have a third completely disinterested party haphazardly writing letters to whatever elected official will help him turn the village upside down," he said.

Calderone invited Nyberg to follow up on his threat to contact the Department of Justice, stating that "I would welcome him calling the justice department … we've got nothing to hide here."

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