With the hearing to determine whether Sgt. Dan Harder will keep his job with the Forest Park Police Department still moving along at a snail’s pace, the village has apparently begun an investigation of another longtime officer, this time 24-year veteran Lt. Steve Johnsen.
The investigation was first discussed at an Oct. 24 village council meeting following a 45 minute executive session. When the commissioners returned to open session they voted unanimously, with Commissioner Patrick Doolin abstaining, to hire Robert Johnson, a retired Illinois State Police Lieutenant Colonel, to investigate unspecified personnel issues at a rate of $100 per hour.
Though rumors were already circulating at the time that the investigation was related to the altercation between Doolin and Doc Ryan’s owner Jim Shaw following a July 25 council meeting, the details went unconfirmed until the issue came up during Police Chief James Ryan’s testimony during Harder’s hearing last Wednesday.
Responding to questions from Harder’s attorney Jeanine Stevens, Ryan acknowledged that an investigation of Johnsen, who was the watch commander on duty the evening of July 25, was initiated in relation to a complaint filed by a local business owner.
Johnsen is also a long-time member of the District 91 school board.
Shaw, sources have said, filed a false arrest complaint in October relating to the incident.
Shaw was arrested following the July council meeting, during which Doolin had declined to second a motion to grant Shaw a variance for a property he owns at 1236 Circle Ave.
Doolin alleged that Shaw had approached him after the meeting adjourned and swore at him repeatedly while attempting to initiate a physical confrontation. Shaw told police that Doolin had provoked the outburst by “flipping him off” during the meeting.
Doolin’s charges against Shaw were “stricken on leave” during an Oct. 4 hearing at Maybrook court. This ruling, sources say, gives the prosecution a 120-day window to revive the charges, though in most cases they are eventually dropped.
Shaw said at the time of the incident that he planned to sue both Doolin and the village, though at this time such actions have not been taken. Shaw was out of town and unavailable for comment for this story.
According to the police report filed July 25, Shaw was contacted at home that evening and drove himself to the police station. He was then arrested by Off. Michael Harrison for disorderly conduct and simple assault.
In a letter to the editor printed in the Oct. 12 Forest Park Review, Shaw alleged that Doolin had abused his power by having Johnsen, his real estate business partner, arrest him despite accounts from witnesses who said he had done nothing wrong.
He wrote that he had been handcuffed and locked in a cell, an account which several sources have since disputed.
Doolin’s account of the incident was verified to police by Village Attorney Michael Durkin, who was sitting next to Doolin at the time. Mayor Anthony Calderone, who was also sitting nearby, said he had been talking to other residents and had not seen anything.
The burden of proof necessary to make an arrest is “probable cause,” commonly defined as a reasonable belief that a crime has been committed.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Stevens attempted to make the case that the investigation of Johnsen followed a pattern of retaliation by Ryan.
Johnsen had sent a memo to Village Administrator Michael Sturino in September in which he expressed his belief that Harder had been targeted unfairly by Ryan and that he was concerned that he would be similarly targeted. In the memo, Johnsen stated that if he is harassed or discriminated against for minor disciplinary issues, he would take legal action.
Johnsen was reportedly formally notified of the investigation early last week. Ryan confirmed that Harrison as well as Sgt. Michael Murphy and Sgt. Eric Bell had recently been notified that they would be questioned in the investigation.
Steven Backman, president of the group Citizens United in Forest Park, which records all village council meetings, said that he had been contacted by the investigator, Johnson, for a copy of the videotape of the July 25 meeting, though he said the camera had been turned off by the time the altercation between Doolin and Shaw occurred.
The cost of the investigation was originally capped at $1,000, but Review sources say that Johnson has already exceeded that cost and has told the village he would need several thousand dollars more to complete the investigation.
Though he acknowledged that similar investigations are usually handled internally, Ryan testified that he asked Calderone and Sturino to be removed from the investigation since it was a “high profile” case and he “did not want Johnsen to think I was picking on him.”
Calderone and Sturino both declined to comment on the investigation.