Sgt. Dan Harder will have to wait to find out the fate of his job with the Forest Park police department, as the Police and Fire Commission hearing to consider his termination was delayed at the request of his attorneys on Thursday.
The commission also denied a motion by Harder’s attorney Erica Raskoph to obtain records of past disciplinary measures taken against police officers for actions similar to those Harder is charged with.
Harder is facing termination for allegedly swearing at a subordinate officer on June 4 and for allegedly lying to Police Chief James Ryan about his whereabouts while taking a sick day on June 10, among other charges.
Raskoph, who works for the Fraternal Order of Police, argued that if her client was facing charges for minor offenses similar to those committed by others on a regular basis, it reduces the credibility of the case for his firing.
“Officers curse all the time, and so do many citizens,” argued Raskoph. “We’d like to know who else is being penalized,” she said.
Ryan’s attorney Patrick Lucansky called Raskoph’s request for other officers’ records a “fishing expedition,” stating that the law is clear that past disciplinary action is only relevant if it was in response to an act identical to the one currently being investigated.
Raskoph also requested other officers’ sick leave records, presumably to determine whether Harder had taken an abnormal number of days off. In the charges originally filed against Harder before the August hearing, he was accused of taking 54.5 sick days in 2005.
The charges, however, were amended after Harder filed a federal lawsuit on Oct. 7 alleging that the accusations violated the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) since most of those sick days were part of a village approved medical leave.
That suit sought an injunction preventing the village from proceeding with the hearings. The village was given until Oct. 24 to respond.
The newly filed charges list Harder’s sick day count at 11, well below the 80 sick days allowed for police officers under the current union contract.
Lucansky said that though he amended the charges to clarify the matter, there was never any intent to deceive or to overlook the FMLA.
The commissioners deferred the decision of whether to allow the request for past records to commission attorney Charles Hervas, who denied the motion but said Raskoph could raise it again before aggravation and mitigation hearings.
Hervas said that he had ruled according to past case law set forth by the Illinois Supreme Court.
The commission placed Harder on an unpaid suspension on Sept. 1 after Lucansky argued that placing Harder on paid leave would damage morale at the police station.
The new date for the termination hearing, which will take place in November, has not yet been set.
EEOC complaint alleges
pattern of harassment
No matter how the Police and Fire Commission rules in November, it is unlikely that the village will have heard the last of Harder.
Harder filed a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on Aug. 18 alleging a pattern of discrimination against him since he and two female officers filed a sexual harassment suit in 2002 against former Police Chief Ed Pope and then Deputy Chief of Police Michael Cody.
In the complaint, he lists numerous incidents in which Ryan allegedly called him a “snitch” or “trouble maker” and hinted that disciplinary actions were a result of the past harassment suit.
One of these instances was a two-day suspension notice given to Harder in October 2004 for pointing his gun at a resident while investigating a 911 hang-up call.
Harder claims that everything he did was by the book, and that Ryan told him that had he not caused the village embarrassment through the lawsuit, he would not have been disciplined.
Harder also alleges that Ryan denied him reimbursement of about $1,400 that had been charged to his personal credit card in connection with summer grant programs and told him that “your complaint against the village and Ed Pope cost a lot more than that.”
In addition, the EEOC complaint lists several instances in which his reports of brutality by other officers were allegedly ignored by Ryan, who Harder claims told him to “stop stirring the pot.”
Ryan has said that he cannot comment on the case since it is a legal matter.
A long battle ahead
Another familiar face from the sexual harassment case likely to reappear in upcoming months is Jeanine Stevens, the attorney who represented the plaintiffs during that legal battle.
Stevens brought the aforementioned federal suit seeking an injunction and may represent Harder in a future civil suit against the village. That suit, she said, will demand lost wages, psychological and emotional damages and payment of medical bills for work related physical conditions.
Stevens brought forth the familiar accusation that the Police and Fire Commission is a “kangaroo court” under the control of Mayor Anthony Calderone.
Stevens said that Harder, a 22-year department veteran never had disciplinary problems until the harassment case.
She also questioned why a representative from Hervas’ law firm, Hervas, Sotos, Condon and Bersani, was present at the federal hearing. She said that by intervening the commission had taken sides.
Hervas said the intention was simply to be present at a hearing that could affect the future of the case before the commission, but that no effort had been made to intervene.
“We were interested in the process, not the results, of the federal hearing,” he said.
Stevens, however, provided a copy of a notice from the District Court granting the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners a leave to file a motion to intervene. She said she has yet to receive the motion.
Stevens speculated that Hervas came into the case biased due to his political affiliations. A Chicago Tribune archive search of Hervas’ name revealed that he had defended controversial consultant Anthony Bruno in August after he was sued by the Town of Cicero.
Calderone called allegations that the case is rigged “preposterous,” and said the Police and Fire Commission independently hires its own attorney. He said that he did not know who Hervas was before he began representing the commission.
He said that he had never discussed the case with any of the commissioners.
“It’s ridiculous to think Mayor Calderone would somehow want to retaliate against an employee of the village. That’s not my style, I don’t engage in it, I don’t condone it and I would seek the termination of anyone who did,” he said.
Police and Fire Commissioner Glenn Garlisch said that he had never received input from Calderone and that he enters each hearing with an open mind.
“It’s kind of ironic that people have already made their mind up that the Police and Fire Commissioners have already made up their minds,” he said.