Police Chief James Ryan took the stand Wednesday evening at Village Hall to explain his reasons for seeking the termination of Sgt. Dan Harder, whose attorney has argued that Ryan is attempting to retaliate against Harder for a 2002 sexual harassment lawsuit brought against the village by Harder and two other officers.
The testimony was a continuation of the hearing before the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners to determine whether to terminate Harder, a 21 year veteran of the police department. The hearing began on November 3.
Much of Ryan’s three hours of testimony revolved around the controversial charge alleging that Harder, who has been on paid leave since June and on unpaid suspension since September, took excessive days off in 2004 and 2005.
Ryan said that his objection was not as much to the number of days off Harder took, but to a pattern of taking sick days or vacation days immediately before or after other days off, which he said “impacted the efficiency of our organization.”
“To maintain minimum staffing we depend on everyone to be at work,” said Ryan. “(Harder’s time off) impacted our overtime budget, morale, and efficiency.”
Jeanine Stevens, representing Harder, argued that there is nothing in the village’s sick day policy that prohibits officers from taking sick days close to other days off. Forest Park’s current Fraternal Order of Police collective bargaining agreement allows officers with over five years experience 80 sick days per year.
Harder is accused of taking 11.5 sick days in 2005 and 19.5 in 2004. He was originally charged with taking 54.5 sick days this year, but the charges were amended to exclude time off that was part of a village approved family medical leave.
According to Stevens, Harder’s sick days were caused by a severe anxiety related stomach condition that was magnified by stress caused by Ryan’s retaliatory efforts since becoming police chief in 2003.
Asked if he was aware of Harder’s condition, Ryan responded “that’s what he said,” noting that he “questions the seriousness of the illness.”
Ryan also said that Harder, whose attorneys have on several occasions pointed to his pristine attendance record before Ryan came on board, had a history of abusing sick days.
He said that he had researched Harder’s sick days in 2000 and 2001,years that Stevens said Harder had taken no sick days, and found that he had, indeed, taken time off.
Ryan said that his research indicates that Harder had taken about 176.5 sick days since he began his tenure in Forest Park. No documentation of these claims was provided by the prosecution, but Ryan testified that Lt. Michael Cody had received a phone call in the days preceding the hearing from retired deputy chief Joe Byrnes, who said that Harder “had been abusing sick days for 20 years.”
Stevens pointed out that in 2004, Harder had 74.5 hours of “time coming,” or time off earned by working overtime, the second most in the department.
“While you’re complaining that he’s not working enough, he’s got 74.5 hours of overtime,” she said to Ryan.
The remainder of Ryan’s testimony focused on two of the other charges brought against Harder, one relating to his use of profanity after a subordinate officer refused to respond to a call, the other relating to a conversation on June 10 during which Ryan alleges that Harder lied to him about his whereabouts during a sick day.
Ryan downplayed the importance of the swearing charge in comparison to the other charges against Harder, who has admitted that on June 4 he called Officer Young Lee an “(expletive) idiot” during roll call.
At the previous hearing on November 3, several police officers testified that swearing is common at the police station, and Stevens brought forth examples of several instances she argued were far more severe that Harder’s altercation with Lee.
Ryan testified that Harder had publicly berated Lee, making his conduct more severe than the majority of swearing incidents. Still, he said that he looks down upon all swearing and does not swear himself except when repeating what other officers have said for the purpose of reprimanding them.
One of these times when Ryan testified he swore while admonishing an officer was when he asked a group of officers at role call if they had ever heard anyone say the word “f***” more than Sgt. Michael Keating. He acknowledged that Keating was not reprimanded when he replied by saying “sit the (expletive) down, chiefy, and shut the (expletive) up.”
Asked about a joke incident investigation report signed by Lt. Steve Knack where Knack wrote, among other things, that Harder was “an (expletive) idiot),” Ryan said that Knack had been reprimanded verbally, but that the report was not intended to be degrading or humiliating and therefore no further action was taken.
Ryan said he did not ask Harder if he felt humiliated because he assumed Harder would have reported it to him if he had. The incident involving Lee was not reported by Lee, but by Off. Deborah Taylor after overhearing Lee talk about the incident.
Ryan reiterated his account of his conversation with Harder on June 10 when Harder had called in sick, stating that he attempted to contact Harder at home when Harder’s wife picked up and said he was at work.
Ryan said he then called Harder’s cell phone and left a voicemail, which Harder responded to within minutes. Harder, Ryan said, told him that he was at home, and that he hadn’t told his wife he was sick because he didn’t want to worry her.
Ryan said that only when he asked “how can you be in the same house with your wife and she thinks you’re at work?” did Harder say that he had left the house and had been driving around for the previous four hours without stopping anywhere.
In his testimony at the last hearing, Harder said he never claimed to have been at home all day, and that the chief had not asked if he had stopped anywhere. He acknowledged that he had stopped at the home of Sgt. Maureen Frawley and that he had stopped at a book store to research new jobs.
Ryan said that Harder told him his illness on that day was due to stress brought about when he found out he was under investigation for his altercation with Lee, and that he told Harder at that time that he’d be placed on administrative leave for the remainder of the investigation.
Asked why he had called Harder to ask where he was during a sick day, Ryan said he had been speaking to his wife while driving about Harder’s habit of calling in sick on Fridays when his wife said “I bet (Harder’s) wife thinks he’s at work.”
He said that his account of the conversation with Harder was verbatim, as he wrote down notes on the conversation later in the day. Asked to produce the notes, he said he had disposed of them after condensing them into a memo to his attorney.
After Police Chief James Ryan’s testimony had concluded and as many spectators were preparing to leave village hall Wednesday night, attorney Jeanine Stevens filed a motion on behalf of Sgt. Dan Harder seeking reinstatement with pay.
The motion references the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners rules and regulations, which state that “the board may suspend any member of the Fire or Police Department against whom charges have been preferred, pending a hearing of the charge by the Board, but not to exceed 30 days, without pay, at any one time.”
Harder was first suspended by the board on Sept. 1.
Ryan’s attorney, Patrick Lucansky, was given a week to respond to the motion.
During the hearing, Stevens also argued that Ryan had violated the police department’s employee discipline policies by failing to give Harder a written reprimand and offer him the opportunity to despond before bringing charges against him.
Ryan said that though the written reprimand is standard procedure, it was “not applicable” in Harder’s case “due to the seriousness” of his actions.
Ryan also testified that a conflict of interest had not been created when Lt. Michael Cody, who was a defendant in the 2002 sexual harassment suit, was put in charge of the internal investigation of Harder.