Forest Park police lieutenant Steve Johnsen testified last week that he believed that Police Chief James Ryan was acting on instructions from Mayor Anthony Calderone in his attempt to fire police Sgt. Dan Harder.
“I believe he is doing it because he was told to by the mayor,” Johnsen said while testifying in the Harder termination hearing before the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners last week. “He works directly for the mayor and if he didn’t do what the mayor wanted his job would be in jeopardy.”
Johnsen, a 24 year veteran of the Forest Park Police Department, testified that he thought the mayor and police chief were retaliating against Harder because of Harder’s involvement in a sexual harassment lawsuit against the village in 2002.
But under an aggressive cross examination by Ryan attorney Patrick Lucansky Johnsen admitted that he had “no personal knowledge about the mayor’s instruction to the chief.”
Calderone reacted strongly when told of Johnsen’s charge.
“Sounds like a sarcastic comment from a disgruntled employee,” said Calderone. “There is no truth to that statement. He has been upset ever since he wasn’t named police chief. It’s sickening to me to hear Steve Johnsen make comments like that.”
Calderone denied that he ever told Ryan to do anything related to Harder. “I’ve never ever said, even once, to do anything to Dan Harder, said Calderone. “Chief Ryan is a law enforcement professional. I don’t tell him what to do.”
Johnsen testified that he felt that Harder was treated unfairly by Ryan almost from the beginning of Ryan’s tenure as chief of police, which began in August, 2003. At that time Harder had accumulated approximately 500 hours of comp time that Ryan ordered Harder to take. Johnsen testified that this denied Harder the opportunity to convert his comp time to cash and forced Harder to stay away from a job he loved.
Johnsen also testified that he thought Harder was unjustly suspended and denied the right to appeal his suspension for his action when pointing a gun at a homeowner while he was responding to a possible home intruder call.
“I believe Dan didn’t do anything wrong and he was suspended and denied the right to appeal,” Johnsen said.
Under cross examination Lucansky attempted to portray Johnsen’s testimony as sour grapes from a man who felt he should be the chief of police. Lucansky noted that Johnsen was acting chief of police for two months in 2002 and felt that he should have been hired as chief. Lucansky suggested that Johnsen has been bitter ever since and has had poor relations with every police chief since that time.
Lucansky confronted Johnsen with a letter of reprimand containing a stinging rebuke of Johnsen’s job performance by interim police chief Carl Dobbs.
Lucansky also suggested Johnsen had ill will toward Ryan because Ryan demoted Johnsen from deputy chief to lieutenant.
In other testimony last week Officer Tom Hall testified that he was told by Assistant State’s Attorney Frank Serio that Serio had heard that Cook County State’s Attorney Richard Devine told Ryan in a telephone call that Sgt. Mike Murphy should either be fired or placed in the evidence room.
At a prior hearing Lucansky asked the Board to censure Harder attorney Jeanine Stevens after producing an affidavit from assistant state’s attorney Colin Simpson that no such conversation took place. Stevens had previously alleged that the Devine had made the comment to Ryan.
Lucansky objected to Hall’s statement as double hearsay, but hearing officer Chuck Hervis allowed the testimony to be considered strictly for purposes of the board’s ruling on the censure motion.
Hall admitted that testifying on the matter was somewhat uncomfortable for him.
“It’s a little disheartening to have your boss sit a few feet away from you and say something that is not so flattering, but I’m not afraid,” said Hall. “If you ask me a question I’ll tell you the truth.”
The next hearing is scheduled for July 7 at 4 p.m. at Village Hall.