In 2002, he received the state’s highest award, the Illinois Law Enforcement Medal of Honor, for pulling an unconscious woman from a burning building and then performing chest compressions to revive her. Over the last four years, his adherence to the law has earned him a spotless record, free of any citizen complaints. His diligence and selflessness displayed through nearly two decades as a police officer in Forest Park have made this community a safer place.
This heroic portrait is painted with the ink of 42 letters submitted to a federal judge who, at a hearing scheduled to take place this morning, will sentence former police sergeant Michael Murphy on a criminal charge that five years ago he abused a suspect. Murphy, 43, pleaded guilty in April to a misdemeanor civil rights violation.
Murphy could be sentenced to a maximum of 12 months in prison, a significantly lesser term than the 30 years he was facing under the felony charges for which he was indicted in 2007.
As part of his plea agreement, Murphy has resigned from the police department and will never again work in law enforcement.
According to records filed with the U.S. District Court in Chicago, dozens of letters asking for leniency have been filed on Murphy’s behalf. Ten of those are from fellow police officers. Another was penned by an FBI agent and still more were written by area residents.
In a letter to Judge David Coar, Forest Park Fire Chief Steve Glinke states that, on at least two occasions, Murphy risked his life running into burning buildings. The woman whose life he saved in 2002-for which he received the state’s highest commendation-is expected to address the court on Murphy’s behalf.
“I also know Mr. Murphy as a friend, parent and spouse,” Glinke said in his letter to the court. “He has and remains someone I believe to be of singular character and selfless courage. My unqualified support for Mr. Murphy is based on the direct observation of someone who has served this community with great skill and pride.”
Deputy Police Chief Tom Aftanas said in his letter to the court that the “seriousness” of Murphy’s offense should not be dismissed, but asked the judge to consider the havoc the case has already wreaked on the disgraced officer and his family. Murphy is facing a “financial crisis” as a result of the legal fees coinciding with the end of his career, said Aftanas.
“Mike did bring this predicament on himself but I believe that prison time is not necessary,” Aftanas said. “He has been punished and I am confident that he will never be arrested again, regardless if he is sentenced to prison.”
Aftanas and others implored the court to consider the collateral damage that might be inflicted upon Murphy’s family should he be forced to spend time behind bars. Murphy’s wife, Dora Murphy, remains employed as the administrative assistant to the police chief. The couple have two children living with them and Murphy, until very recently, was paying child support to an ex-wife. The former officer also provides financial assistance for his mother-in-law, according to a petition filed by his defense attorney, Rick Halprin.
Murphy’s sister holds an administrative position with the municipality.
A series of statements from Murphy’s attorney, a counselor and his former employer, Police Chief Jim Ryan, portray Murphy as a reformed officer who was under a great deal of stress in 2003 when he arrested Sidney Hooks. Hooks, who suffered a broken wrist as a result of Murphy’s overly aggressive tactics, saw the charges filed against him dropped and later collected a $50,000 settlement from the village.
From August 2004 to November 2009, Murphy attended 32 psychotherapy sessions at the Police Assistance Center/St. Michael’s House, which closed in 2006, according to a letter from Murphy’s counselor, Rory Gilbert. The therapist characterized Murphy’s participation as voluntary, though additional court records stipulate that Ryan placed Murphy on administrative leave following an altercation with a fellow officer and “strongly” suggested Murphy take a Fitness for Duty evaluation.
As a result of that evaluation, according to court records, Ryan placed Murphy on medical leave and again recommended counseling.
“Mr. Murphy was under great stress as the result of a tremendous amount of discord within the department,” Gilbert said in his May 30 letter. “Briefly, the background for this intradepartmental conflict is that a female police officer reported to Sgt. Murphy that she had been sexually harassed and assaulted by a deputy chief at a picnic for members of the department. As a supervisor, Mr. Murphy felt he had no option other than to make an official report of this incident.”
Murphy’s role as a whistle-blower in the sexual harassment case divided members of the rank and file into categories of supporters and critics, according to Gilbert. Complicating the problem, the deputy chief maintained a supervisory role in the department despite a criminal conviction in the case. The strife began about a year before Murphy’s 2003 arrest of Hooks. Gilbert treated Murphy for depression, anxiety and stress.
“His response [to] the therapy was excellent,” Gilbert said in his letter.
Murphy’s wife was also harassed by the former deputy chief and former police chief, according to Halprin, Murphy’s attorney.
In a May 12 letter from Ryan to the court, the police chief described Murphy’s conduct since being ordered into therapy as that of a “model police officer” who treated everyone with “respect and a high level of professionalism.” Ryan eventually put Murphy in charge of training new officers.
“I believe that the actions I took in 2003 had resolved any issues that Mike Murphy might have had,” Ryan said in his letter. “Time spent in prison would result in an extreme hardship personally and financially on his entire family. The embarrassment, public humiliation and loss of his 18-year police career is more than enough punishment for any actions that Mike Murphy had taken five years ago.”