Following a full year of sworn testimony and evidentiary hearings, Sgt. Dan Harder’s future with the Forest Park Police Department now rests with the three members of the village’s Fire and Police Commission.
The commission must decide whether to uphold Chief Jim Ryan’s decision to terminate Harder. The sergeant is accused of 10 infractions of the department’s policies stipulating employee conduct. The bulk of the allegations are based on Ryan’s claim that Harder referred to a subordinate officer as a “(expletive) idiot” on June 4, 2005.
Harder is also accused of lying about his “(expletive) idiot” comment during an in-house investigation in July of last year.
Closing arguments in the case were delivered Sept. 27 and two executive sessions for deliberation are scheduled for Oct. 7 and Oct. 8. A public meeting will be scheduled for the commission to vote on its ruling, according to commission attorney Charles Hervas.
Over the course of the hearings, Harder testified that he did in fact refer to Officer Young Lee in those terms, but defense attorney Jeanine Stevens said Ryan’s charges are “much ado about nothing.” Course language is pervasive in the Forest Park Police Department, Stevens argued, and is part of the culture in departments all over the country.
“It’s a typical police department,” Stevens said.
Further, Stevens said the root of the charges has nothing to do with Harder’s conduct as a police officer.
In October 2002 Harder and two female officers filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the police department. Stevens argued that Ryan is actually Mayor Anthony Calderone’s darling and is seeking Harder’s dismissal in retaliation for that earlier suit. That case was resolved in May 2004.
Stevens claimed that her client was passed over for training opportunities, demoted from his rank of detective sergeant and wrongfully suspended for his response to a 911 hang-up call as part of a conspiracy between the mayor and chief of police. The effort to terminate Harder is simply the final piece of the puzzle, Stevens argued.
“It’s uncomfortable here,” Stevens said of the department’s work environment. “Everybody’s looking over their shoulder.”
Ryan’s attorney Patrick Lucansky said the evidence proves that Harder’s conduct warrants his dismissal. Lucansky listed the alleged violations stemming from Harder’s comment, and read transcripts of the officer’s testimony in which Harder agreed the comment was inappropriate.
The charges include allegations that Harder was not respectful or courteous, that he let his emotions interfere with his duties and that he failed to avoid using offensive language.
“Surely there can be no doubt that when a member calls another member a ‘(expletive) idiot,’ he is guilty of this,” Lucansky said.
Ryan confirmed that he has never previously disciplined Harder for using foul language.
In addition to the charges related to the “idiot” comment, Harder is accused of lying about his whereabouts on June 10, 2005, after calling in sick to work. Further, Ryan alleges that Harder abused the department’s sick time policy, though absences were permitted under the federal Family Medical Leave Act and the department’s union contract.
According to Ryan, Harder often called in on Thursdays and Fridays, thus arranging extended weekends for himself. According to the charges, Harder used 21.5 sick days in 2004 and during the first 165 days of 2005, used 54.5 sick days.
In defending her client’s use of department sick time, Stevens argued that Harder suffered from hemorrhoids, for which a physician had recommended surgery.