A decision on whether to continue the termination hearings for Lt. Steve Johnsen is expected in a few weeks after testimony on his motion to dismiss the charges filed by the chief of police concluded last week.
Lawyers for Johnsen and Chief James Ryan will submit written briefs arguing their case prior to a ruling. Members of the Fire and Police Commission will then either dismiss the case or continue to hear evidence that Johnsen’s oversight of a 2005 investigation warrants termination.
Ryan has accused Johnsen of mishandling the case that led to Jim Shaw’s arrest following a village council meeting in the summer of 2005. Further, Ryan is alleging that Johnsen lied about his actions during an in-house investigation. Ryan is asking the commission to fire Johnsen.
Johnsen’s motion to dismiss the allegations contends that he was already disciplined for the matter, per an agreement with Mayor Anthony Calderone.
During his most recent testimony on Nov. 15, the mayor reiterated his previous statements that he met with Johnsen in May to resolve the matter while Johnsen was on paid administrative leave. During the private meeting Calderone said Johnsen proposed that he give up 10 vacation days and accept a letter of reprimand. That letter would make no mention of his truthfulness in the Shaw matter.
Calderone testified he agreed to this, but learned after the meeting from the village attorney that he did not have the power to unilaterally impose discipline.
“We left thinking the matter had been settled, but I soon learned otherwise,” Calderone said.
Calderone described his May 3 agreement with Johnsen as non-binding.
On cross examination by Johnsen’s attorney Jeanine Stevens, Calderone said he reached “a verbal understanding,” not an agreement, with Johnsen. Calderone also testified he never ordered Ryan to write a letter of reprimand for Johnsen.
Stevens asked Calderone whether he had the power as mayor to order Ryan to write such a letter.
“I believe I could,” Calderone said. “I have the ability, authority to order the chief to write a letter a reprimand.”
Stevens asked Calderone why he did not order Ryan to write the letter.
“The chief of police feels very strongly about police officers not lying and he felt that Lt. Johnsen lied in the investigation,” Calderone said.
Calderone said he attempted to broker a deal between Johnsen and Ryan, but was unable to do so.
Stevens introduced the employee handbook for the village of Forest Park in an attempt to show that the mayor does have the power to impose discipline. But Calderone said he was not sure the employee handbook applied because officers are governed by the Fire and Police Commission.
Though Ryan did not dispute that Calderone and Johnsen reached an agreement, the chief argued that Calderone can not order him to discipline police officers. Ryan said Johnsen was never disciplined and never forced to give up vacation days. Further, Ryan said he would not accept the officer’s vacation time as penance.
“I did tell the mayor it was unacceptable,” Ryan said. “Because of the lying I didn’t feel the reduction of 10 days of vacation and a letter of reprimand was adequate.”
If Johnsen worked during previously scheduled vacation time, that was Johnsen’s own choice, Ryan said. The chief also testified that if a police officer gives up vacation days in a disciplinary matter it is usually up to the department, not the employee, to determine what vacation days will be relinquished.