Forest Park Police Chief James Ryan filed charges last week with the village’s Board of Fire and Police Commissioners seeking the termination of Lt. Steve Johnsen.

A private investigator was hired in February to investigate Johnsen’s conduct while supervising the arrest of Doc Ryan’s owner Jim Shaw following a village council meeting in July 2005. Though the investigator recommended termination or suspension, Johnsen was allowed to return to work in May after a three month paid leave.

Ryan has now brought six charges against Johnsen, each of which relate to the same arrest, which occurred following a verbal confrontation between Shaw and Commissioner Patrick Doolin, according to a copy of the charges obtained by the Review.

The Review also obtained a copy of a letter dated May 5 from Jeanine Stevens, who was Johnsen’s attorney at the time, to attorney Thomas Melody, who was representing the village at the time. The letter is a confirmation of an agreement allegedly entered into between Mayor Anthony Calderone and Johnsen on May 5 as a settlement of the dispute.

The letter states that the agreement called for a letter of reprimand to be placed in Johnsen’s folder for mishandling the investigation and that no further action would be taken by the police department against Johnsen arising from the Shaw incident.

Stevens said she sent the letter as a confirmation after Johnsen informed her of the deal he and Calderone had reached, and that the village had not replied with its own confirmation of the deal.

During his testimony in the Dan Harder termination hearings, Calderone was asked if he had resolved the matter with Johnsen with a letter of reprimand. He responded, “I might have.”

In a letter to the editor on May 30 responding to a critical opinion piece by Review columnist Bill Dwyer, Calderone wrote that “After a complete review of the investigative report, appropriate discipline was imposed upon Lt. Johnsen.”

Johnsen is accused in the charges of failing to ensure that Officer Michael Harrison, the arresting officer, conducted an appropriate investigation into the allegations against Shaw by not ensuring that he interviewed all potential witnesses.

Ryan also alleges that Johnsen violated department policy by failing to accurately brief him regarding the incident, specifically by failing to mention that Village Attorney Mike Durkin had stated that no threatening behavior by Shaw had occurred. Johnsen is also accused of failing to pass this information on to Harrison and conveying inaccurate information to Harrison regarding Durkin’s account.

The final charge against Johnsen is that he failed to truthfully answer questions posed to him during an interrogation on Dec. 9, 2005. In a partial transcript of the interrogation enclosed with the charges, Johnsen states that he related what Durkin had told him to Ryan and Harrison, but denied that Durkin had told him that Shaw did not behave in a threatening way. The charges do not state where in the transcript of the interrogation Ryan believes Johnsen lied, and Ryan could not be reached for clarification.

The document concludes by stating that “Johnsen’s conduct as alleged herein constitutes a substantial shortcoming rendering his discharge as a lieutenant of the Forest Park Police Department to be necessary and appropriate because his conduct was detrimental to the order, discipline and efficiency of the police department.”

The charges, sources say, will be brought before the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners.

The incident which led to the charges against Johnsen has also led to a barrage of lawsuits from Shaw. He sued Doolin in May, alleging that Doolin misled police by exaggerating the conduct which led to his arrest. Doolin and Johnsen are close friends and former business partners.

On July 24, Shaw filed another lawsuit, this time against Johnsen, Harrison and the village.

Ryan and Calderone both did not return calls seeking comment on the decision to seek Johnsen’s termination.

At the Aug. 10 hearing of the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners, the board granted Johnsen a grace period to retain an attorney before it begins to consider the case against him. A hearing was scheduled for Sept. 12 at 6 p.m.

Board member Glenn Garlisch, who serves alongside Johnsen on the Forest Park School District 91 board of education, recused himself and will not sit in judgment of Johnsen during the hearings.

Johnsen’s fate lies with Fire and Police Commission now

On Monday, Mayor Anthony Calderone sent the following letter:

I received a “breaking news” story from the Forest Park Review over my e-mail last week. The story is being run in this week’s edition. The web extra I received was titled, “Village seeks to fire Lt. Steve Johnsen.” In an effort to keep the record open and straight, I’m publicly acknowledging the fact that I attempted to enter into an agreement with Lt. Johnsen following the report and findings from the independent investigator.

If for no other reason than sentiment, as I have known Steve and his family for many years, I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and felt he was acting on intimidation and loyalty to Commissioner Doolin, which brought about this unfortunate incident.

Our police chief, Jim Ryan, does not share my sentiment, and I was not persuasive enough to get him to agree with the terms Steve and I discussed. Jim is a man of duty and honor and the rights of people. As the police chief, it is his authority to bring charges against an officer in his department if he believes the actions of that officer warrant a hearing.

The matter will be publicly heard now, and it rests in the hands of the Fire and Police Commission.

Anthony Calderone
Mayor of Forest Park