An officer stripped of his supervisory authority and facing termination called for Chief Jim Ryan’s badge as a “last salvo” to help the village avoid a pile of legal bills.
Lt. Steven Johnsen is scheduled to go before the Fire and Police Commission on Oct. 5 and is facing six allegations brought by Ryan that he violated department policy. A Sept. 21 letter from Johnsen’s attorney Jeanine Stevens to Village Administrator Mike Sturino offers a Sept. 29 deadline to terminate Ryan’s employment as the chief of police.
In exchange, Stevens said, the village can avoid having to pay for Ryan’s legal representation and other costs associated with hosting the termination hearings before the Fire and Police Commission.
“I think that it’s highly ridiculous,” Mayor Anthony Calderone said of Johnsen’s proposal. “Obviously, we’ll have our village attorney look at it, but it seems like it’s out of left field.”
Calderone said he has no intention of meeting the Sept. 29 deadline. Sturino declined to comment on the letter.
According to the charges filed by Ryan against Johnsen, the officer failed to properly supervise the arrest of a business owner in July of 2005.
Stevens is also representing Sgt. Dan Harder, who is scheduled to wrap up a year-long hearings process with the same commission on Sept. 27. In that hearing, Harder is also facing the possibility of termination based on allegations brought by Ryan.
Stevens estimated that Harder’s case has resulted in some $200,000 in legal fees for the village. This does not include any costs associated with a lawsuit filed in federal court by Harder against the village. Stevens said a similar hearings process for Johnsen will likely cost the village a similar amount.
“I’m not privy to all that, but that’s the scuttlebutt I hear,” Stevens said.
Further, Stevens stated in the Sept. 21 letter that Ryan is in violation of a village ordinance for not receiving the village council’s authorization to spend the large sums of money she anticipates as necessary to proceed with the termination hearings against Johnsen.
At each of the village council’s twice-monthly meetings, Calderone said, expenses are reviewed by the commissioners. At any time the council can vote not to fund Ryan’s legal expenses with respect to both Johnsen’s and Harder’s hearings.
Calderone said it is plausible that Ryan has billed the village for $200,000 in the Harder case, but much of that is actually Stevens’ fault. Of an estimated 20 hearings over the past year in the Harder case, Calderone said only one or two of those hearings were necessary for Ryan to present his case. Stevens has intentionally dragged the process on in an effort to blackmail the village with its own legal bills, Calderone said.
Stevens said she is not prepared to begin Johnsen’s termination hearings because she was just retained, however, acknowledged she may have no choice. During a brief scheduling conference earlier this month, commission attorney Charles Hervas expressly told Johnsen to “make sure your attorney is ready to go forward that day.”
At the time of Hervas’ statement, Johnsen was requesting a 45-day extension so that he could hire an attorney.