Those with particularly strong memories might recall the opening argument made by Police Chief James Ryan’s attorney, Patrick Lucansky, at the outset of the current hearing to consider terminating Sgt. Dan Harder. Essentially, Lucansky told the Board of Fire and Police commissioners that they would hear two wildly differing accounts of events, and it would be up to them to decide who to believe.
At the time, it seemed a strange way to introduce his case”basically an admission that the board would not have much in the way of evidence to work with, and was instead being asked to make a ruling based on who it felt was more trustworthy.
At this point, Lucansky’s words have become unintentionally prophetic. With each charge against Harder being shredded, one by one, the board has nothing left upon which to base a ruling other than a guess as to who is telling the truth.
The charge that Harder swore at a subordinate officer during roll call, which he has admitted, is an absolute joke after nearly every officer has testified to the vulgar language used both in jest and in seriousness at the police station every day.
The village should have dropped the charge of excessive absenteeism after it was revealed that they had included time off granted to Harder under the Family Medical Leave Act. Hopefully, that oversight will not result in further legal troubles.
To keep that charge alive, Lucansky has produced charts showing that Harder took three out of five Fridays off during one stretch in 2004 tacked sick days onto other days off, but no evidence has been provided that Harder was not indeed sick on those days. If such evidence existed, it likely would have been included at the outset.
The charge that Harder made up a conversation with Sgt. Mike Murphy, during which Murphy allegedly threatened him, has now been cast in layers of doubt as over and over again officers have testified to Murphy’s history of dishonesty.
Ryan said he believed Murphy over Harder because he felt Murphy was more credible, and perhaps if given the opportunity, officers would have said that Harder had a similar history of lying. But even if that were the case, the board would then be faced with somehow determining who told the truth among two reputed liars.
As for Ryan’s claim that Harder must have lied because his estimate of the time of the incident being off by 15 minutes, Ryan has admitted that he might have been equally innaccurate in his own time estimates cited in the charges.
So with these charges out the window, all that’s really left is the question of whether Harder lied to Ryan during a conversation regarding his whereabouts while out sick.
Nobody was there to hear what Harder actually said, the conversation was not recorded, and Ryan, who says he is positive that his recollection of the conversation the following morning was verbatim, has not produced any notes. Essentially, as Lucansky predicted, after all the time and money spent, it’s just Ryan’s word against Harder’s.
But even if Harder did lie, is this really a fireable offense? Maybe in a squeaky-clean police department, but with officers testifying that they carry guns while off duty in part due fear of physical harm by their co-workers, it’s safe to say the department has bigger issues to take care of. And if a single lie is really worth firing someone over, the department is sure going to have a lot of firing to do considering the hours of contradictory testimony heard during the hearing. Everyone can’t be telling the truth.
Though at this point it’s likely too late to turn back, we hope the village is at least questioning how Harder’s presence on the force could possibly have been as damaging as all the dirty laundry that has been aired during this seemingly never-ending soap opera.