Two days after former sergeant Michael Murphy was sentenced to a year in federal prison for beating a suspect, Police Chief Jim Ryan joined members of his staff at a fundraising event for the convicted officer.
Ryan said that he did not attend the July 11 gathering in his official capacity, but rather as a colleague of Murphy’s wife, Dora. Dora Murphy is the police chief’s secretary and was described by Ryan as an “extremely competent employee” who will likely be facing financial hardships when her husband reports to prison on Sept. 8.
“I would say that [the fundraiser] gives Dora Murphy and her family an opportunity to pay the bills, put food on the table and keep a roof over their head,” Ryan said. “It had nothing to do with sergeant Murphy.”
Mike Murphy, 43, was sentenced July 9 to spend 12 months in a medium security prison. U.S. District Court Judge David Coar imposed the maximum sentence under a plea agreement reached with federal prosecutors. Murphy was indicted on felony charges that carried a combined maximum of 30 years in prison, but pled guilty to a misdemeanor civil rights violation. In 2003, Murphy arrested a suspected panhandler on charges of battery and resisting arrest. Using pepper spray and his baton, Murphy broke the man’s wrist.
The charges filed against the suspect were later dropped and the village paid $50,000 to settle a civil claim on Murphy’s behalf.
Ryan said he had no role in organizing the event and learned of it through officers in the police department. The fundraiser was held at a nearby golf facility in Maywood.
Village Administrator Michael Sturino said he did not attend the fundraiser, but saw no reason why village employees and public officials should not attend. According to Sturino, the fundraiser was held expressly for Murphy’s wife and family, whom he said do not deserve to be punished.
Asked whether the attendance of the police chief or other public officials gives the impression that the municipality condones criminal behavior, Sturino vehemently disagreed.
“That’s a baloney question. I don’t agree with the premise of your question,” Sturino said.
Jay Stewart, executive director of the Better Government Association in Chicago, said it’s quite common for politicians and public officials to lend support to a colleague or ally facing legal trouble. The practice is certainly not illegal, Stewart said, but it’s a matter of “taste and judgment.”
The fundraiser for Murphy begs a question of whether support is deserved, given that police often criticize a similar practice in their communities. Investigators become frustrated when community members don’t reveal the criminals within their neighborhoods, said Stewart. The fundraiser, which could be seen as a closing of the ranks within the police department, has a similar dynamic.
In late December, Murphy was the beneficiary of another fundraiser held for the purpose of offsetting his legal fees. That event was organized in part by Commissioner Mark Hosty, who is a lifelong friend of Murphy’s.
Regarding the July 11 fundraiser, Hosty said he had no comment.
“I had a nice crucifixion in your paper in December,” Hosty said. “I have no comment on the Murphy family whatsoever.”
Commissioner Rory Hoskins said he knew of the event, but did not attend and does not plan to make a financial contribution. Hoskins declined to comment on whether public officials should have attended, and directed those questions to the village council’s ethics advisor.
Sturino, the village administrator, is also the council’s ethics advisor.
“I don’t think it’s unprecedented for friends and colleagues to hold a fundraiser for [someone’s] legal defense fund,” Hoskins said.
He pointed to former Illinois governor George Ryan as a recent example of such. Ryan is serving a multi-year sentence in a minimum security branch of the facility where Murphy will serve his term.
“It’s not unprecedented, so I wouldn’t make a big deal out of it,” Hoskins said.
Commissioner Michael Curry said, too, that he did not attend the event. In response to questions about making a contribution, Curry offered several remarks, first saying that he had no comment. The commissioner then said he has not yet made a donation and that he is undecided as to whether he will.
Commissioner Martin Tellalian said he did not attend the fundraiser, nor was he aware that one had been planned. Tellalian said he was sympathetic to Murphy’s colleagues and supervisors who may want to help the former officer’s family. However, Tellalian said that elected officials should avoid participating.
“I would be very surprised if the mayor and other commissioners were there,” Tellalian said. “I don’t think it would be a very good idea.”
Mayor Anthony Calderone did not return phone calls seeking comment.