At last week’s installment of the Dan Harder termination hearing there were more than the usual couple of spectators. About 20 people showed up to watch, no doubt attracted by the star witness, Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone.
Calderone, nattily attired in a dark striped suit, light blue shirt and elegant yellow horizontally striped tie, was questioned by Harder attorney Jeanine Stevens. While Calderone’s testimony took nearly two hours to complete, much of that time was taken up with lawyer’s arguing while Calderone was not in the room.
The attorneys’ arguments focused on objections to many of Stevens’ questions by Patrick Lucansky, the attorney for Police Chief Jim Ryan, who is prosecuting the termination case against Harder. Many of the questions that Stevens wanted to ask were ruled irrelevant and collateral by hearing officer Charles Hervas.
Calderone quipped that he wouldn’t have to exercise after constantly walking in and out of the hearing room. When he was in the room, he carefully answered the questions that Stevens was allowed to ask. Many of his answers included phrases such as “I think so”, “I might have”, and “Not that I can recall”.
On the main point, however, Calderone did not equivocate.
Concluding her questioning of Calderone, Stevens asked the mayor whether the attempt to terminate Harder was retaliation against Harder for his involvement in a 2002 sexual harassment suit against the police department, which has been a major theme of Harder’s defense in the hearing..
“Absolutely not,” answered Calderone.
Calderone testified that he never discussed his feelings regarding Harder’s involvement in the sexual harassment suit with Ryan.
Stevens also asked whether the attempt to fire Harder was retaliation for Harder’s support of Lt. Steve Johnsen’s political campaigns. Johnsen is a former business partner of Village Commissioner Patrick Doolin, a political rival of Calderone’s.
“Absolutely not,” was again Calderone reply.
Calderone portrayed himself as a mayor who has little to do with the running of the police department. The mayor, as commissioner of public affairs in Forest Park’s commission form of government, bears ultimate responsibility for the police department, but Calderone said he leaves the job of running the department to Ryan, the chief.
Calderone testified that his only role is to oversee the chief and that he only meets with Ryan a couple of times a month.
Stevens asked whether Calderone ever had any discussions with Ryan about Harder.
“I think so,” was Calderone’s response. Calderone then estimated the number of his conversations with Ryan about Harder at less than 10.
Calderone said it was Ryan’s decision, not his, to seek to terminate Harder.
“I trust my police chief,” said Calderone.
Calderone also denied having any personal animosity toward Harder.
“I don’t have any personal feeling about Sgt. Harder,” said Calderone.
Stevens countered Calderone’s assertion that he doesn’t interfere in police department matters by bringing up the recent investigation into Johnsen’s arrest of Doc Ryan’s owner Jim Shaw following an altercation between Shaw and Doolin at a village council meeting last year.
Stevens represented Johnsen in the ensuing investigation. After Johnsen was placed on paid leave during the investigation, the matter was settled and Johnsen returned to work.
When Stevens first asked about the Johnsen case Calderone said he could not comment because it was “a pending matter.”
But Stevens countered that the matter was resolved, a fact she said that she knew as Johnsen’s lawyer, and asked whether Calderone had intervened in the case when Ryan wanted to pursue further charges.
Stevens asked if Calderone resolved the issue with a letter of reprimand.
“I might have,” was Calderone’s response.
Before Calderone testified Sally Cody, administrative assistant to Calderone and village administrator Michael Sturino, was on the hot seat.
Stevens focused her questioning of Cody on a telephone call she received on a Monday morning in March of 2005 from someone who said that Harder was seen by a police officer passing out campaign literature on the previous Saturday when he was on medical leave.
Despite repeated mocking questions by Stevens, Cody testified that she could not recall who made that phone call to her. “I don’t recall the person who called me, but I feel I knew the person who called me,” said Cody. Cody said she passed on the information on to Sturino who told her to research the matter.
Cody testified that she talked to police officers Young Lee and Michael O’Connor. She said she believed it was Officer Lee who told her that O’Connor saw Harder passing out campaign literature for Johnsen. Cody said O’Connor told her he saw Harder out on the street passing out campaign flyers.
Cody said she couldn’t recall exactly what O’Connor said but that he confirmed that basic details. Cody said she asked O’Connor if he would attest to what he saw.
In the end it did not matter because Cody was later informed that Harder’s leave had ended that Saturday and he was, on that day, using vacation time.
The last witness of the day was Cody’s former husband, Lt. Michael Cody, who handled the internal police investigation of Harder. One of the charges against Harder is that he fabricated an account of an incident in which he claimed he was threatened by Sgt. Michael Murphy. Throughout the hearing, Stevens has attempted to portray Murphy as not being credible, calling several officers to the stand to testify regarding his alleged history of dishonesty.
Cody testified that while he believed Murphy cannot be believed in some instances and had a reputation within the department for not telling the truth, he felt Murphy told him the truth during the Harder investigation.
Cody was one of the defendants in the sexual harassment suit Harder was part of, although the specific complaint by Harder involved former Police Chief Ed Pope, not Cody.
Stevens told the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners that she hopes to complete her case at this week’s hearing that will begin at 4 p.m. on Thursday at village hall. Harder’s termination hearings began in September of last year.