Sgt. Dan Harder has filed a lawsuit against the village and several officials alleging that the terminations hearings he is currently facing, as well as much of the unfair treatment he says he has endured over the past couple of years, were part of a pattern of politically motivated retaliation orchestrated by Mayor Anthony Calderone and Police Chief James Ryan.
Is anyone surprised? If they are, they probably haven’t been paying much attention to the Harder ordeal, and with the hearing now almost six months old, who can blame them?
It has become increasingly clear over the course of the hearing that Harder’s defense is more focused on the lawsuit than on saving his job. On numerous occasions during the termination hearing, attorney Jeanine Stevens has insulted the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, which essentially serves as the jury in the hearing, accusing them of being bought and sold and predicting that they would find her client guilty.
This does not mean Stevens is deliberately throwing the case”perhaps she truly believes the hearing is rigged and her accusations are a sign of her frustration in knowingly fighting a losing battle. Still, her actions do not seem like those of someone who realistically expects to win.
Win or lose, however, Stevens has succeeded in establishing a record filled with contradictory testimony from police officers of all ranks, much of which corroborates Harder’s allegations.
Regardless of whether the village was justified in seeking Harder’s termination, by doing so on charges so thin and difficult to prove, they have handed Stevens the perfect setup for the current lawsuit.
In future months, the village will have to consider whether to come to some sort of settlement with Harder. Sure, we do not want to see the village set a precedent that any employee who threatens costly legal action will receive a payout to make them go away. But we also do not want to see the village have to cut back on projects that would benefit all residents of Forest Park due to escalating legal fees and insurance rates.
The fact that, in addition to the village, Harder’s lawsuit names several village officials as individuals only makes the situation more complicated, not to mention the possibility of the village facing Stevens in another possible termination hearing for Lt. Steve Johnsen.
This is an ugly situation that will only get uglier, and there are no easy solutions. We can only hope that the village makes the difficult decisions ahead with the good of its residents in mind rather than its own pride and desire not to back down from Harder.
The village should take the highest possible degree of care to ensure that it enters this lawsuit prepared so that it is able to win the case with some degree of expedience. If it becomes clear, however, that the costs of pressing on are going to limit the village’s progress and the services available to its residents, the village will, at some point, need to put its taxpayers first.