Forest Park Police Sgt. Dan Harder was on the stand for the majority of the latest installment of his own ongoing termination hearing last Thursday.
He spent the majority of his testimony, which lasted about four hours, recapping the numerous reasons why he feels the department’s current effort to fire him is in fact the culmination of a series of actions taken as retaliation for his participation in a sexual harassment lawsuit against the village in 2002.
Harder began by once again calling out the name of Mayor Anthony Calderone, who he feels orchestrated the effort to fire him. He said that he once had a good relationship with Calderone, and was even appointed to chair Calderone’s committee to attempt a referendum to make Forest Park a home rule community.
After the lawsuit, he alleged, things immediately changed. He said he confronted Calderone in 2004 about comments by the mayor in a Forest Park Review article following the settlement of the suit. Harder said that in the article Calderone denied that the settlement was an admission of wrongdoing by the village but that that contradicted the deposition he had given during the trial.
“He told me he felt I was a catalyst of the sexual harassment case and had stopped the momentum of the police department. He said I was no longer a friend of his administration,” said Harder. Harder also questioned recent comments from Calderone in which he downplayed his role in the police department’s day to day affairs.
Calderone, who as mayor also serves as the commissioner overseeing the police department, has repeatedly stated that police decisions, including the decision to seek Harder’s termination, are made by law enforcement professionals, particularly Police Chief James Ryan.
Harder, however, characterized Calderone as “always around checking what’s going on” and “in regular contact” with police through their Nextel radios. “He told me he was the top ranking law enforcement official in the village of Forest Park,” Harder said.
Calderone has denied making statements indicating a desire to retaliate against Harder throughout the hearing, but due to the civil suit that has now been filed against him by Harder Calderone said he would have to check with his attorneys before commenting on the latest testimony.
Harder went on to say that he felt a sense of resentment from Ryan beginning almost immediately when he took the reins of the department in 2003. Among other things, he said, Ryan demoted him from detective sergeant to patrol sergeant despite what he characterized as a stellar performance record.
As has been alleged by his defense throughout the hearing, Harder said that when he attempted to raise issues of alleged police brutality Ryan repeatedly told him to stop “causing trouble” or “trying to embarrass the police department” and failed to conduct a thorough investigation.
He also said that he was unfairly reprimanded by Ryan on several occasions, most of which have also been previously discussed during the hearings. Harder claimed that Ryan reprimanded him without asking for his side of the story. He also said he was denied reimbursement for money he had spent on police department youth outreach programs.
“It got to the point where if someone said Sgt. Harder was a terrorist I’d receive a memo saying I was embarrassing the police department and violating department policy by being a terrorist,” Harder said.
Much of the testimony focused on an incident in September 2004 which led to Harder being suspended for two days for his actions while responding to a 911 hang-up call. Harder disputed the accusation that he kept his gun aimed at a woman who turned out to be an innocent resident of the home for too long, alleging that he was disciplined as part of the retaliation for the sexual harassment lawsuit.
He said he had followed police procedure, noting that a 911 hang-up call is one of the most dangerous calls police can receive because, presumably, the caller is unable to stay on the line because of an imminent danger. He said that he canvassed the house screaming “Forest Park Police,” noting that he saw several boxes containing electronics on the home’s ground floor, indicating the possibility of a burglary.
When he finally spotted the resident, who had not yet been identified, Harder said he kept his gun pointed at her for “no more than four seconds” before turning away from her to search the rest of the room.
He said Ryan later told him that “if he hadn’t embarrassed the police department, he wouldn’t find himself in the trouble he was in.”
In his own testimony, Ryan noted that part of the reason he felt the situation had been mishandled was that Harder responded to the call with an auxiliary police officer rather than a regular officer. He repeatedly denied making statements to Harder indicating that he was being retaliated against for the sexual harassment suit.