Pointing to his family’s financial health and political corruption within the Forest Park Police Department, Lt. Steve Johnsen said he will quit the force effective immediately.
Johnsen, a 25-year veteran of the department, was in the midst of a fight to keep his job after Police Chief James Ryan brought several allegations of misconduct to the Fire and Police Commission in August of 2006. One month ago, commission members voted to deny Johnsen’s motion to dismiss those charges. At that same hearing, the lieutenant was suspended without pay.
The loss of his $82,000 salary coupled with some $15,000 in legal bills was a motivating factor in his decision to resign and essentially cut his losses, Johnsen said.
“The strategy is not to bankrupt myself,” said Johnsen, who will be eligible to receive his pension in two years at the age of 50.
The police chief said he received no notification of Johnsen’s resignation and expressed some surprise at the move.
“I’ve never seen anybody retire through the newspaper,” Ryan said.
The resignation will not leave the department short-handed, Ryan said, and Johnsen’s position will remain vacant. In accordance with a village ordinance, the police department must employ one chief, a deputy, three lieutenants and seven sergeants, Ryan said. Though he was under suspension, Johnsen was technically the department’s fourth lieutenant, according to Ryan.
Attorney Jeanine Stevens represented Johnsen before the Fire and Police Commission and was out of the country when her client made his decision. Upon returning to the U.S., Stevens said she had no comment.
Had he decided to continue fighting for his job, Johnsen said he estimated the process would cost him some $50,000. With 25 years of law enforcement under his belt, a pension within reach and a background in real estate, Johnsen said the smart decision was to retain his “honor” and resign.
In a letter to the editor submitted to the Forest Park Review, Johnsen made little mention of his former supervisor and targeted most of his anger at Mayor Anthony Calderone. According to Johnsen, Calderone intentionally hires weak administrators that he micro-manages, interjecting politics into otherwise non-political issues. Further, Johnsen defended his handling of an arrest for disorderly conduct back in July of 2005 that eventually prompted an internal investigation leading to the charges of misconduct lodged by Ryan.
“I know what probable cause is,” Johnsen said. “Disorderly conduct is a staple for [the Forest Park Police Department].”
Johnsen reiterated that upon receiving the complaint, filed by an elected official, his first two phone calls were to the mayor and the police chief to seek direction.
“I went beyond appropriate,” Johnsen said.
Calderone denied playing mastermind to the detriment of Johnsen’s career and accused the former officer of “playing politics.”
“I think that Steve Johnsen truly has and continues to play politics,” Calderone said. “I think it’s inexcusable that a person such as he plays politics and then when he does something wrong, he denies playing politics.”
Though nothing was submitted in writing to the police chief, Village Administrator Mike Sturino confirmed that Johnsen’s retirement will take effect on Jan. 31.
“Being a policeman doesn’t define me like it once did,” Johnsen said. “Take this away from a 25-year-old, and it would be heart-breaking.”