A Forest Park police sergeant has been indicted on felony charges by a federal grand jury for allegedly using excessive force during a 2003 arrest. Further, the officer is accused of falsifying information in his report of the incident with the intent to “impede, obstruct and influence” the outcome of the case, according to federal records.

The charges against Sgt. Michael Murphy were handed down Oct. 24 by the U.S. District Court in Chicago after the case was presented to a special grand jury convened in March. Both counts in the indictment stem from the Aug. 6, 2003, arrest of Sidney Hooks, during which Murphy is alleged to have used pepper spray and a baton. The indictment makes no mention of the reason for Hooks’ arrest or the extent of his injuries, but a lawsuit filed by Hooks in 2004 offers a detailed accounting.

An indictment is not an indication of guilt or innocence, rather that a grand jury has found sufficient evidence to warrant a trial.

Court records filed with the Oct. 24 indictment reveal that Murphy remains free on $4,500 personal recognizance bail, pending his Nov. 1 arraignment. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office, Randall Samborn, said Murphy will not be taken into custody prior to his mandatory court appearance

If convicted, Murphy, 42, could be sentenced to 30 years in prison and ordered to pay $500,000 in fines.

Village officials confirmed their knowledge of the charges and released a brief written statement last week through the police department.

“Sgt. Michael Murphy, a 17-year veteran of the Forest Park Police Department, has been indicted by the United States Justice Department. The indictment includes one count of obstruction of justice and one count involving a civil rights violation,” the statement read. “The indictment was issued on Oct. 24, 2007, following an investigation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Sgt. Murphy has been placed on paid administrative leave.”

According to Hooks’ civil complaint filed in February 2004, Murphy arrived at the tail end of a police response in which two officers were attempting to determine whether Hooks was panhandling. The two other officers responding to the call were satisfied that an arrest was not necessary and explained as much to Murphy, the suit contends.

After walking approximately half a block from the scene, Hooks was apprehended by Murphy, who was exiting his squad car with pepper spray in-hand. Hooks was allegedly sprayed in the face and then struck repeatedly with a baton, resulting in a broken wrist. After being kicked and handcuffed, Hooks was transported to the police station where Murphy “dragged Mr. Hooks approximately 20 feet,” according to the suit.

Hooks was later taken to a nearby hospital where he was treated for his injuries.

“Mr. Hooks was falsely charged with resisting arrest and aggravated assault of a police officer,” defense attorney Arthur Loevy said in his 12-page complaint. “The charges against Mr. Hooks were dropped by the prosecutor.”

Hooks’ lawsuit was settled out of court in June 2004.

Murphy’s 2003 arrest report describes Hooks’ behavior as belligerent and aggressive. Murphy stated in his report that Hooks was in fact leaving the scene, but that he “continued to shout profanity as he walked away from the officers.”

Hooks continued taunting Murphy as the officer advanced, prompting Murphy to use his pepper spray, according to the report. Murphy stated in his report that he struck Hooks with his baton once on the right leg.

The Hooks case is not the first time Murphy has been the subject of a civil complaint against the village. Forest Park has paid settlements on at least three other occasions in 1994, 1995 and 2004 in cases where Murphy was named as a defendant.

His indictment can be added to a growing pile of personnel issues hanging a black cloud over the 38-member police department. Most notably, since 2002 the department has seen a sexual harassment suit, the firing of another sergeant and the resignation of a lieutenant. It was also revealed in August that a third sergeant in the department has ties to Antoin “Tony” Rezko, who was indicted by federal investigators on corruption charges 12 months ago.

Also in August, a patrol officer was accused of raping a Forest Park woman. County prosecutors declined to press criminal charges in that case, however, the officer has recently been suspended by the department for an unannounced term as a result of the incident.

Mayor Anthony Calderone has stood by Police Chief Jim Ryan despite the disciplinary issues facing the department. Calderone acknowledged that an allegation of wrongdoing can have a besmirching effect on the department’s reputation. However, the mayor discouraged the notion that these incidents can be viewed collectively.

“Every circumstance has different circumstances, so I don’t believe there should be a cumulative effect,” Calderone said.

Employee disciplinary issues are a reality regardless of the department, and “to think that we’re never going to have an employee … that doesn’t do something they shouldn’t have done” would be “unrealistic,” Calderone said.

Suspected officer suspended

By JOSH ADAMS

A patrol officer accused in August of raping a woman will be suspended from his job, according to village officials, however the severity of the punishment was not revealed.

Officer Nick Kozak was placed on paid administrative leave in mid August pending the outcome of a criminal investigation by state police into the woman's claims. Prosecutors declined to press charges in the case. Since then Kozak has been awaiting the outcome of an in-house review to determine whether he violated any department policies. Village Attorney Mike Durkin announced the suspension Monday.

"The officer agreed to accept discipline and we issued an order," Durkin said.

Citing employee confidentiality, Durkin would not elaborate on the details of the discipline being imposed. Durkin did say, however, that had the officer not agreed to waive his right to a public hearing before the Fire and Police Commission, the punishment would have necessitated such a hearing.

Under state law, Police Chief Jim Ryan has the authority to suspend an officer for five days without pay before bringing the matter to the commission for review. It was not clear when Kozak will begin serving his suspension, and Durkin said those scheduling issues will be decided by the police chief.

Ryan said Kozak's suspension will be scheduled to avoid staffing shortages and overtime costs. No decision has been made yet as to when the officer will be forced to miss shifts. The suspension does not have to be served consecutively, Ryan said, and can be broken up to avoid further inconveniences to the rest of the department.

Kozak was accused of rape by his alleged victim in an Aug. 12 police complaint filed with the Forest Park Police Department. According to a heavily redacted copy of that report released by the village, Kozak met the woman at a location on Madison Street the night before. It is apparent the two were familiar with one another, though state investigators have declined to discuss any details of their findings, including the nature of Kozak's relationship to the woman. The assault is alleged to have occurred at the woman's apartment, also located on Madison Street.

Through an attorney, the accuser declined to comment on Kozak's suspension and said she has had little contact with the police department with respect to its internal investigation.

Again citing matters of personnel, Durkin refused to specify which department policy Kozak violated. Speaking generally, the village's attorney said that the lack of criminal charges does not preclude the village from finding that Kozak is guilty of a violation. Behavior that soils the village's good name, for example, is one possible infraction.

"You can imagine getting your name in the paper will have an impact on the department," Durkin said.

A phone call to Kozak's attorney, whose services were provided by the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, was not returned.