In perhaps the most heated edition yet of the now 4-month old termination hearing of Sgt. Dan Harder of the Forest Park Police Department, officers of all ranks took the stand to address the finger-pointing that has occurred throughout the hearings while still finding time to point new fingers in several directions.
The hearing, which ran from 4 to almost 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 27, began with testimony from Officer Jason Keeling. Harder’s defense is partially based on the claim that Harder is being retaliated against for speaking out against acts of police brutality committed by Keeling, among other officers.
Keeling said that allegations made by Harder in a memo to Lt. Steve Knack that he slammed a juvenile’s head into a gate outside the police station in 2003 were false.
Keeling said that Harder, who claimed in that memo that he had taken control of the juvenile after seeing Keeling abuse him, had merely assisted him in controlling the prisoner, who he said “was the most combative juvenile I’ve ever had to deal with.”
He said that Knack “asked him what happened” soon after the incident, but that he was never formally interviewed and did not know whether an investigation occurred. Since brutality allegations began to arise in the hearings, village officials have repeatedly stated that all allegations of misconduct by police officers are investigated, but have declined to discuss the specifics of past investigations.
Keeling acknowledged being investigated by Sgt. Maureen Frawley for a separate brutality allegation, but said he was not disciplined.
Following Keeling’s testimony, the focus of the hearings shifted to the conduct of Sgt. Mike Murphy. Among the charges against Harder is an allegation that he fabricated his account of a conversation during which he was allegedly threatened by Murphy.
Police Chief James Ryan previously testified that he believed Murphy rather than Harder regarding their alleged altercation in part because he felt Murphy’s word was more credible, and Harder’s defense has responded by calling numerous officers to testify regarding Murphy’s alleged history of violence and dishonesty.
Sgt. Michael Keating acknowledged that he had spoken to several officers in 2004 regarding their concerns about Murphy’s temperament. Asked if the concerns involved excessive force, Keating responded “No, they were more about being in a bad mood and just hard to get along with.”
He also acknowledged having spoken to officers about their concerns regarding Murphy’s truthfulness, and had relayed these concerns to Ryan. He said he had discovered a police report filed by Officer Scott McLintock that seemed to be missing key details which Murphy was accused of taking out.
Sgt. Eric Bell was then called to testify regarding an e-mail he wrote to Murphy in 2003 demanding that all future correspondence between the two of them be put in writing because of a tendency for he and Murphy to emerge from the same incident with differing accounts of what had occurred.
Bell acknowledged typing the e-mail, but said it had been taken from his computer and was never intended to be sent. “The memo was written as a way for me to expel some frustration and move on,” he said.
He also contradicted the testimony of Lt. Steve Johnsen, who recalled a conversation with Bell during which Bell said that he would not complain about Murphy because he didn’t want what happened to Harder to happen to him.
Bell denied that the conversation ever took place, and also denied telling Johnsen that Mayor Anthony Calderone was retaliating against Harder.
Officer Harold Grimes, who witnessed the 2004 arrest by Murphy of a homeless man named Sydney Hooks which led to a lawsuit against the village, was next to take the stand.
Grimes said that he saw Hooks arrested, pepper-sprayed, and hit with a baton in the back, shoulders and arm by Murphy. In his lawsuit, which was settled out of court, Hooks alleged that his wrist was broken during the altercation.
Grimes testified that Murphy later wrote in a police report that he had been assaulted by Hooks, which he said was not true according to his recollection. During cross examination, Grimes acknowledged that he had witnessed the altercation from his squad car parked about a half block away, and did not hear anything that was said by Hooks that might have provoked Murphy, but said that he did not see Hooks physically resist arrest.
Grimes later refused to sign a complaint by Murphy against Hooks, and testified that he had explained his reasons to Ryan.
Murphy’s only defender during the hearing was Officer Debbie Taylor, who denied that she had voiced her own concerns about Murphy to Johnsen. “I worked with Murphy for a number of years, and never had any problems with him at all,” she said, contradicting Johnsen’s testimony.
Taylor filed a complaint with Ryan in June regarding an incident during which Harder swore at Officer Young Lee during roll call which led to an investigation and later became one of the charges brought against Harder in the current hearing.
Jeanine Stevens, Harder’s attorney, asked Taylor whether she had filed her complaint against Harder in response to Harder’s participation in a 2002 sexual harassment against former Police Chief Ed Pope and Lt. Michael Cody, who Taylor supported.
“No, I didn’t like that he was demeaning and mentally abusive to co-workers and has been for a number of years,” said Taylor.
Officer Michael Harrison then testified, acknowledging that, at one point, he “thought that if Murphy were to get angry he’d physically harm me.” He said that he intentionally arranged his work schedule to avoid Murphy as much as possible, and has looked for other jobs because he did not want to work with Murphy. He said that his fear of Murphy was part of the reason he carried a gun while off duty.
He said that at this point, he is no longer overly concerned about Murphy “because I don’t think he is credible in the department anymore…people don’t take his word over mine now.”