Facing a dismal end to his 21-year career as an officer, Sgt. Dan Harder offered up a much lighter punishment than the one sought by his boss, Chief James Ryan.
Attorneys for both men made their final pleas to the Fire and Police Commission on Dec. 7, with Ryan’s attorney restating the case to terminate the embattled cop. Through his attorney Jeanine Stevens, Harder offered that a five day suspension would be sufficient.
In October the commission sustained 10 charges against Harder after more than a year of periodic hearings. Harder was found to have called a fellow officer, Young Lee, a “(expletive) idiot” on June 4, 2005. Additionally, commissioners agreed that Harder lied to Ryan regarding his whereabouts after calling out sick. Harder was also found to have abused the department’s policy on sick leave.
Pat Lucansky, the veteran attorney for Ryan, urged the commission to fire Harder, veteran of the Forest Park Police Department.
“Chief Ryan is seeking termination, the ultimate sanction,” Lucansky said. “Termination is, in our opinion, the only appropriate sanction.”
Lucansky used only 10 of his allotted 30 minutes to make his argument.
Lucansky conceded that Harder used to be a good cop, but claimed the officer’s more recent behavior alienated almost the entire police force.
“There’s no denying that in his earlier career in Forest Park he was a good officer,” Lucansky said. “Unfortunately, officer Harder lost his focus on being a good police officer and spent all his time and energy in tearing down the mayor and whomever happened to be police chief. His attacks were vicious, cruel, and unrelenting. He was merciless in his attacks. He has lost forever the respect of his fellow officers.”
Those attacks, Lucansky claimed, may jeopardize Harder’s safety on the job.
“In police work backup is everything,” Lucansky said after the hearing. “Those people he has gone after, I don’t know how you could rely on those people. I’m not saying they wouldn’t back him, I’m just saying that could be a problem.”
Harder was not present at the hearing, just as he was not present when the body issued its ruling on the charges.
Harder’s attorney argued for a much different interpretation of the facts and spoke for the duration of the 30 minutes allotted to her.
“He is one of the best officers this community has ever had,” Stevens told the commission.
Stevens presented the commissioners with a long list of commendations Harder has received over his career. In 1998 Harder had more felony and misdemeanor arrests than any officer in Forest Park, Stevens said. She noted that her client helped create the Police and Fire Department Athletic League to keep youths out of trouble. In 1985 Harder convinced a woman who was going to jump from an apartment building and kill herself not to do so.
If her client was dishonest with anyone, Stevens said, it was with his wife and not the police department.
“Is this an officer you really want to lose,” Stevens asked.
Prior to 2002 Harder was disciplined only three times, according to Stevens, and she accused Ryan of going on a rampage against her client.
The only charge against Harder that Stevens gave credence to was the swearing incident.
“The appropriate discipline should be a five day suspension for swearing at a fellow officer,” Stevens said.
The commission will meet in closed session in the next few weeks to deliberate and then will meet publicly to issue its decision, according to Chairwoman Amy Rita.