In denying a motion for dismissal, the Fire and Police Commission decided that Lt. Steve Johnsen has not been disciplined for his role in the allegedly political arrest of a Forest Park bar owner, and that the termination hearings requested by the police chief will continue.
The Dec. 28 ruling was announced just moments before the same commissioners voted to suspend Johnsen without pay for 30 days.
In October, Johnsen’s attorney Jeanine Stevens argued that her client reached a disciplinary agreement with Mayor Anthony Calderone that included a letter of reprimand and a siphoning of Johnsen’s vacation time. That alleged agreement was made in May of 2006 after an internal investigation of Johnsen’s role in the arrest of Jim Shaw recommended that disciplinary action be taken against Johnsen.
Shaw was charged in July of 2005 after an altercation with Commissioner Patrick Doolin, who is a longtime friend and business partner of Johnsen’s. The charges against Shaw were later dropped.
According to the Fire and Police Commission’s written decision, the mayor never had the authority to reprimand Johnsen, nor did Calderone ever order such discipline. As such, Johnsen remains eligible for termination as sought by Chief Jim Ryan.
“The Forest Park Fire and Police Commission, however, need not reach the question of Mayor Calderone’s power to issue discipline in the police department because, by his own testimony, the mayor never took any action to order discipline, to overstep the authority of Chief Ryan or to ensure that discipline had been perfected as outlined in Mayor Calderone’s understanding with Lt. Johnsen,” the commission stated in its ruling.
In reaching this conclusion, commission members pointed to testimony from the police chief’s secretary, Dora Murphy, who keeps the department’s employee records. Murphy testified that she was never ordered to dock Johnsen’s vacation time or place a letter of reprimand in his personnel file.
Further, Ryan testified that he never agreed to the terms proposed by Calderone and Johnsen.
The decision to deny Johnsen’s request for dismissal opens the door for testimony to begin in the coming weeks that will help determine the validity of seven allegations filed by the police chief. In his August 2006 filing, Ryan accuses Johnsen of botching his oversight responsibilities in connection to Shaw’s arrest, lying to the chief about the investigation and lying in a sworn document filed with the Circuit Court of Cook County.
A stack of subpoenas for more than 20 witnesses was presented by Johnsen’s attorney, and though no formal decision was made, commission attorney Chuck Hervas informed both sides that a “liberal” approach will be taken in granting subpoenas for the defense. Ryan’s attorney Thomas Melody argued that many of the witnesses will likely offer irrelevant testimony that deals solely with the altercation between Doolin and Shaw. The questions before the Fire and Police Commission, Melody said, have nothing to do with the particulars of that incident.