Suspended cop files discrimination lawsuit against village officials

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By SETH STERN

Sgt. Dan Harder of the Forest Park Police Department has filed a lawsuit alleging that his current termination hearings and numerous alleged slights and reprimands over the past several years were part of a pattern of retaliation for speaking up against police brutality and filing a sexual harassment lawsuit against the village in 2002.

In addition to the Village of Forest Park, the lawsuit names Mayor Anthony Calderone, Police Chief James Ryan, Deputy Village Clerk Sally Cody and Lt. Michael Cody of the Forest Park Police Department.

The suit, filed in the US District Court on March 9, asks that Harder be compensated for damages including economic loss from both his current suspension and alleged denials of career opportunities as well as pain and suffering and attorney's fees.

"Forest Park had a general, widespread, ongoing, permanent, well settled and accepted pattern of retaliating against employees who exercise federally protected political speech and who report allegations of criminal activity committed by fellow officers," states the lawsuit.

The lawsuit accuses Ryan of ignoring several complaints made by Harder regarding alleged police brutality, all of which have been explored repeatedly during the current termination hearings.

For example, it alleges that, after warning the department against leaking information regarding allegations of brutality brought against the village by Sidney Hooks, Ryan approached Harder and Sgt. Maureen Frawley and told them to "quit stirring the pot" as they had done in their sexual harassment suit.

Ryan has on numerous occasions during the current hearings denied making such statements or participating in any effort to retaliate against Harder.

The lawsuit also alleges that efforts were made to retaliate against Harder for campaigning for Lt. Steve Johnsen during his run for Proviso Township trustee, calling Johnsen "a political opponent of Calderone."

Johnsen's future with the police department is still unclear following findings by Bob Johnson, a private investigator hired by the village, that Lt. Johnsen had a local bar owner improperly arrested at Commissioner Patrick Doolin's request.

The suit accuses Sally Cody of calling Off. Michael O'Connor in April, 2005 to ask if he would testify in a disciplinary hearing against Harder that he had seen Harder passing out literature for Johnsen while he was on medical leave. O'Connor acknowledged having the conversation with Cody during his testimony at the current termination hearing.

Harder was never disciplined for his campaign work, but Ryan later put Knack and Lt. Michael Cody in charge of the investigation that led to the current charges against him, which include excessive absenteeism, swearing at a subordinate officer and lying about his whereabouts while on sick leave.

The lawsuit states that Ryan ignored the fact that Cody believed Harder had assisted other officers in bringing civil and criminal charges against him relating to the sexual harassment lawsuit when appointing Cody to lead the investigation.

Though Lt. Cody was accused of sexual battery by Off. Andrea Caines, Harder's complaint in that lawsuit involved former Police Chief Ed Pope, not Cody, as Ryan has pointed out during his testimony.

The lawsuit also alleges that the village violated the Family Medical Leave Act by listing sick days taken by Harder while on village-approved leave in support of the charges of excessive absenteeism which he is facing at his current termination hearing.

Ryan and Calderone declined to comment on the lawsuit at this time, citing "pending litigation."

Village Administrator Michael Sturino said that the village's insurance policy would pay for the village's legal fees as well as those of the village employees named on the lawsuit.

Harder first filed a complaint against the village with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Aug. 18, 2005 and was granted permission to sue the village by the EEOC in December.

The next edition of Harder's termination hearing is scheduled for April 11 at 5:30 p.m.

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