The Forest Park Board of Fire and Police Commissioners unanimously voted on Thursday to suspend Sgt. Dan Harder without pay as his attorneys prepare to defend him against charges brought by Police Chief James Ryan which could lead to Harder’s termination.
Harder is facing 10 charges, most of which stem from an incident on June 4, when Harder allegedly called Officer Young Lee a “******* idiot” on two separate occasions. Harder allegedly asked Lee to respond to a call to assist the fire department with traffic control, and Lee asked Harder to assign the call to Officer Marcin Scislowics, who usually works that beat.
According to the charges brought before the police commission, Harder replied, “it’s 2:36 (a.m.), go take the call you ******* idiot.” When Lee asked Harder not to call him that, he allegedly replied, “go take the call idiot,” and then referred to him as a “******* idiot” again while leaving the room.
Harder is also charged with taking excessive amounts of sick days and lying about his whereabouts during one of those sick days.
Still, several political critics of Mayor Anthony Calderone, who asked not to be named, said that the charges against Harder are actually a means of political retribution, calling the Fire and Police Commissioners a kangaroo court comprised of Calderone’s associates.
Harder was one of three plaintiffs in a 2002 sexual harassment suit brought against the police department, former Police Chief Ed Pope and then Deputy Chief of Police Michael Cody.
In that case, Harder alleged that Pope had repeatedly sexually harassed him and falsely insinuated that he was a homosexual. He eventually settled for $46,666.
Calderone attended the hearing last week, but said he had just dropped in to observe the procedure of a Police and Fire Commission hearing. He noted, however, that the village takes abuse of sick days extremely seriously, and dismissed the notion that retribution was involved.
Sources have also told the Review that Harder has served as a “whistleblower” in the past on issues ranging from alleged abuse of prisoners by police officers to falsified police reports.
“Dan Harder has become the poster child for what happens when you speak up,” said Steve Backman of the group Citizens United in Forest Park (CUinFP), of which Harder is a member.
CUinFP has been behind a recent push for the Village to adapt a Whistleblower Reward and Protection Act, which would provide protections for Village employees who wish to report the misdeeds of their coworkers.
Ryan said he could not comment on the case since it is now a legal matter.
The charges stemming from the incident involving Officer Lee mostly include violations of the section of the police department policy book entitled employee conduct, which states that “employees, whether on duty or off duty, will follow ordinary and reasonable rules of good conduct and behavior,” and also demands that employees be “courteous to others and “avoid using coarse, violent, profane or insolent language or gestures” while performing their duties.
Harder is also charged with lying to Ryan about his whereabouts on June 10 after calling in sick for the day. The charges state that Ryan called Harder at home, and his wife answered and said he was at work. He then left him a voicemail on his cell phone.
When Harder called back, the charges state, he first said he had been at home, but when Ryan asked how he could have been at home when his wife thought he was at work, Harder said he had been “driving around” for several hours.
When he was later interrogated regarding the conversation, Harder allegedly denied telling Ryan that he had been at home.
According to the charges, Harder took 21.5 sick days in 2004, and in the first 165 days of 2005 took 54.5 sick days and a total of 105.5 days off. Harder has been on paid administrative leave since June 11.
Ryan’s attorney, Patrick Lucansky, successfully argued that allowing Harder to remain on paid leave would have a negative impact on morale among the police. Harder’s attorney Erica Raskoph, who works for the Fraternal Order of Police, argued that an unpaid suspension would be financially burdensome for Harder, who has two young children.
Lucansky noted that if Harder is eventually acquitted of the charges against him, his pay for the period of the suspension would be returned.
The closed session meeting of the commissioners that ended in the decision to suspend Harder lasted about 10 minutes, after which the date of the next hearing was tentatively set for Thursday, Oct. 13.