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A federal court has overturned a municipal ruling that ended a police officer’s 20-year career, calling the March 2007 decision to fire former sergeant Dan Harder an “arbitrary and unreasonable” act. Judge James Moran of the U.S. District Court went so far as to criticize the police chief for his “incredible” testimony offered during the 11-month saga of Harder’s termination hearings before the Fire and Police Commission.


“Nevertheless, the board credited [Chief Jim] Ryan’s testimony, and as much as we would wish to re-evaluate that determination, we cannot,” Moran said.


Following Ryan’s 2005 allegations that Harder violated several department policies with his use of profanity, deceit and abuse of sick time, the local commission heard evidence on the charges for almost a year until October 2006. In his defense, Harder alleged the police chief – and the municipal government – was merely seeking vengeance over a sexual harassment suit that Harder filed in 2002.


The judge’s May 2 decision was in response to Harder’s
April 4, 2007, request that the court conduct an administrative review of the commission’s ruling. Moran stipulated that it is not the court’s role to examine credibility of evidence offered up during the local proceeding, but to determine if Harder deserved to be fired. Given the ruling that the officer should not have lost his job, the case will go back to the Fire and Police Commission where the panel must decide on some other sanction “short of discharge.”


“While we find a wealth of evidence in the record to support a retaliation defense, we are unable, due to our deference to the board, to say that the board’s rejection was against the manifest weight of the evidence,” Moran said.


Of the 10 charges Ryan brought to the Fire and Police Commission to fire Harder, all 10 were sustained by the three panel members. Former commission member Glenn Garlisch cast the lone vote not to sustain the allegation that Harder had abused a department policy as it relates to sick time. Garlisch also opposed firing Harder.


The federal judge sided with Garlisch on both of those matters, while sustaining the nine other allegations brought by Ryan.

 


For complete coverage of the federal court’s ruling, read the May 14 print edition of
Forest Park Review.