An 18-page report from the Fire and Police Commission released Monday accuses former police sergeant Dan Harder of fabricating a conspiracy among ranking village officials to take his badge.
The statements are made as part of the commission’s explanation for voting earlier this year to fire Harder. That Feb. 1 ruling followed a lengthy public hearing process initiated by Police Chief James Ryan, who asked that Harder be dismissed from the department in August of 2005 for violating several department policies.
The March 5 report outlining the Fire and Police Commission’s ruling triggers a 35-day window for either side to file an appeal with the Cook County Circuit Court.
“The board finds that the overall strategy of (Harder) in placing the Forest Park Police Department on trial for alleged misdeeds lacked relevance and failed to prove that respondent was a victim of retaliation or any sort of conspiracy to retaliate against him,” members of the commission said in the document.
Further, the body admonished Harder’s attorney Jeanine Stevens for what it called “disrespectful” behavior. According to the report, Stevens failed to “conduct herself with proper respect for the legal process involving the board’s responsibilities….”
These sidebar comments, though, are irrelevant to the facts of the case, Stevens said, and only reinforce her client’s belief that the appointed members of the Fire and Police Commission are incapable of rendering a fair opinion. Throughout the year-long hearing Harder alleged Mayor Anthony Calderone conspired with Ryan and other village employees to have him terminated. Throughout his defense, Harder pointed primarily to a 2002 sexual harassment suit he filed against the village and his role as a whistle blower within the department as the reasons for the retaliation.
The board’s chairwoman, Amy Rita, has received financial gifts from Calderone, according to campaign contribution reports maintained by the state. Rita is also a volunteer in the mayor’s re-election campaign and regularly features a column penned by him in her publication, the Forest Park Post.
“I have dealt with this board for the last year and a half, or whatever it’s been, and I don’t have any respect for them,” Stevens said following the report’s release.
Harder declined to comment and referred questions to his attorney.
Though the Fire and Police Commission ultimately dismissed Harder’s defense, the body did concede to the pervasive existence of foul language within the ranks of the police department. The bulk of the police chief’s allegations of misconduct stemmed from a June 4, 2005, incident in which Harder swore at a subordinate officer. Harder did not deny the incident took place, but argued that swearing is routine within the department and should not be the basis for termination.
According to the report, board members reasoned that a culture of such behavior doesn’t justify an individual’s decision to perpetuate that pattern.
“Although the record clearly notes that swearing frequently occurs in the Forest Park Police Department, the board rejects respondent’s efforts to suggest that the use of foul and obscene language was appropriate in this context,” the commission said in its report.
Commission member Glenn Garlisch cast the lone vote in a 2-1 decision not to terminate Harder, and instead argued for a 30 day suspension. According to the document, Garlisch said the officer’s long career with the department should be considered against the allegations, and that Ryan should have imposed “progressive discipline” before seeking termination.
According to Stevens, progressive discipline is reserved for other officers in the department, but not her client. She commended Garlisch for having the courage to vote for an appropriate outcome.
“I think the board is petty,” Stevens said. “I think there was collusion between the board members. I think the whole thing is a kangaroo court system.”
Ryan did not return a phone call late Monday afternoon seeking comment.
In a separate but related case, Harder is suing the village of Forest Park for alleged Civil Rights violations in U.S. District Court. Specifically, the former cop is alleging that the village and several employees went after his job in retaliation for the 2002 sexual harassment suit filed in 2002. Also, Harder said his campaigning for a political rival of Mayor Anthony Calderone fueled the retaliatory action.
In addition to Calderone, Ryan, the mayor’s secretary and another officer are named as defendants in the federal suit. That case is still pending and Harder has requested a jury trial. Stevens said Monday she plans to appeal the municipal board’s ruling to the county court.