Lt. Steve Johnsen, the second highest ranking Forest Park police officer behind Chief James Ryan, was called to testify Thursday evening in the latest installment of the termination hearing of Sgt. Dan Harder.
Harder’s attorney, Jeanine Stevens, sought to use Johnsen’s testimony to establish a “foundation,” or a justification for the admittance of evidence she will later use to build her case, mostly memos pertaining to allegations of police brutality which Harder reported to his superiors.
Much of Harder’s defense is based on the claim that the village is seeking his termination as retaliation for “blowing the whistle” in these cases as well as for his involvement in a sexual harassment lawsuit he and two other officers filed against the village in 2002.
“There have been several incidents of police brutality that either went uninvestigated or under investigated,” said Johnsen, a 24 year veteran of the department, who depicted the police force as divided between “commandos,” or aggressive, overzealous officers who are favored by Ryan, and meeker officers who are often “terrorized” at the station. He said that these officers often gravitated towards Harder since he was willing to speak up for them.
Asked for examples of brutality, Johnsen pointed to the high profile case of Paul Cruikshank, the alleged “Wrigleyville Rapist” who was apprehended in Forest Park early this year after a string of sexual assaults. Cruikshank allegedly told investigators he had been beaten while in the custody of the Forest Park police.
Harder wrote a memo to Johnsen on Jan. 2 stating that he had been approached by two detectives who related that Cruikshank had told them that he had been beaten by a male police officer with a crew cut, and was hurt so badly that he could not eat his meals.
According to the memo, one of the detectives identified Officer Nick Kozack as the officer to whom Cruikshank was referring.
Cruikshank, according to a memo sent to Harder by Det. Pete Morrissette, allegedly repeated his allegations to detectives from the Chicago Police Department as well as Cook County State’s Attorneys, but did not request medical attention or ask to file a complaint.
Johnsen said he did not know whether an investigation into the matter ever took place.
Mayor Anthony Calderone and Village Administrator Michael Sturino both said that it is the village’s policy to investigate all formal complaints of misconduct by police officers, and Calderone noted that he would be “very upset” if he were to find out that this policy was not being followed.
“The village investigates every complaint made regarding the actions or activities of village employees,” said Sturino, who said that he can’t comment on the specific allegations in question since they are a matter of pending litigation.
Another example of alleged police brutality mentioned by Johnsen concerned an incident in 2003 when Harder wrote a memo to Lt. Steve Knack stating that he had seen Officer Jason Keeling slam a handcuffed juvenile’s head into a gate outside the police station during the arrest.
Johnsen again said he did not know whether any disciplinary action was taken in this case.
In the memo, which was also sent to Ryan, Harder said that upon observing Keeling’s behavior he had pushed Keeling aside and taken control of the juvenile, who was verbally abusive, screaming racial slurs at Harder.
According to the police report filed following the arrest, officers responded to a call of a disturbance at Kelly’s Tavern on Oct. 10, 2003 after a group of juveniles had attempted to purchase alcohol and, after being refused, exited the bar and began banging on the windows and yelling profanities.
The juvenile Harder alleged was abused, according to the report, was combative with officers and struggled with officers as they attempted to handcuff him, and bumped his head on the side of the police car during the struggle. A report was also filed with the police department describing the damage that had been caused to the police car.
The report states that upon observing the juvenile’s violent behavior when he arrived at the station, Harder came out to assist in bringing him inside. The juvenile continued violently resisting officers once inside the station, allegedly daring them to hit him and threatening to sue the department. No mention of abuse is made in the report.
Calderone said that he was not familiar with the incidents discussed at the hearing, but said that allegations of excessive force often arise in cases where a struggle between an officer and an arrestee takes place.
Though each complaint is investigated, he said, he is typically only informed of the situation if the police chief has determined that some wrongdoing by an officer had occurred. Calderone has continually denied that retaliation played any role in the decision to bring charges against Harder.
According to Forest Park police department guidelines, unnecessary force is defined as “when physical abuse of a person being arrested or detained is exacted or when it is apparent that the type or degree of force was not objectively reasonable or necessary,” as well as any use of force intended for punishment or vengeance.
The guidelines state that when force is applied indiscriminately, an officer will be subject to disciplinary action and possible civil or criminal prosecution.
At Thursday’s hearing, which was delayed because of Stevens late arrival due to the evening’s snow storm, Stevens did not complete her questioning of Johnsen, and Ryan’s attorney Patrick Lucansky did not begin his cross examination.
Though Johnsen will be out of town for the next hearing, scheduled for Dec. 29 at 4 p.m, his testimony will continue at the hearing following that one.