A federal prosecutor’s allegations made in open court last month of police misconduct have raised eyebrows in Forest Park, prompting Village Administrator Mike Sturino to determine whether there’s any truth to the attorney’s claims.
It was during a sentencing hearing for another Forest Park officer that Sergio Acosta of the U.S. Attorney’s Office painted a dim portrait of Police Chief Jim Ryan. Acosta claimed the chief has repeatedly failed to acknowledge the severity of misconduct in his department.
Acosta’s statements were made as he argued that former sergeant Michael Murphy should be sent to prison for beating a suspect in 2003. Ryan had submitted a letter to the court asking for a lighter punishment in the case, and it was in this context that Acosta claimed Ryan possesses a skewed sense of discipline.
A now former Forest Park police officer who applied for a job in Ohio told authorities there that he had committed perjury, stolen from suspects and physically abused suspects while working in Forest Park, according to Acosta. This information was relayed to Ryan, who allegedly allowed the officer to continue working in Forest Park without ever looking into the Ohio report.
It is these allegations that Sturino is investigating, though he would not say specifically the target of his efforts.
The Forest Park Review provided Sturino with a copy of the transcript from the July 9 hearing during which Acosta made his allegations. Sturino said he is always concerned when allegations of police misconduct are made, and is attempting to verify what was said in open court. Sturino said he has found nothing to prove or disprove that the former officer committed the alleged acts. There is no record of a complaint alleging such behavior on file with the village, he said.
An investigation of this type is usually prompted by a written complaint of some kind, said Sturino, which contains specific details of the alleged offense. Without such documentation “it’s pretty tough” to find evidence in support of the allegation, he said.
Absent a formal complaint to trigger an investigation, the village administrator said he has some latitude to begin asking questions.
“Hearing about it, it’s causing me to make some inquiries,” Sturino said.
In his statements to the court, Acosta did not provide dates, cases or the names of any suspects related to the former officer’s alleged behavior. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office told the Review that Acosta would not provide the newspaper with any specifics.
“We feel that it’s not appropriate for him to comment beyond what was said in court,” said Randall Samborn, the spokesperson for the federal office.
Sturino said he has not attempted to contact the federal prosecutor, nor has he sought any information from the Ohio police department that reportedly discovered the acts during the course of an employment interview. Sturino said he may expand his efforts to include those sources.
The transcript that is the launch pad for Sturino’s investigation was completed July 24.
“A report came back to Chief Ryan from the police department in Ohio, which reflected that [the officer] had admitted, among other things, committing perjury on at least five occasions as a police officer, taking things from people that he had arrested, physically abusing people in his custody,” Acosta said, according to the transcript. “As well as pulling over on one occasion a woman simply because he thought she was good looking.”
Acosta told the court that the officer continued to work for the department for nine months after Ryan learned of the Ohio police department’s findings. The officer resigned from the department, according to village council meeting records, and was replaced in July 2005.
The Forest Park Review is not naming the former officer because he has not been charged with a crime.
Sturino said it’s important to note that Acosta’s allegations were part of the prosecution’s strategy, and may have served a dual purpose. The former officer was one of two who responded to the 2003 incident for which Murphy was prosecuted and his name appeared on the federal government’s witness list. Murphy’s defense attorney, Rick Halprin, would have likely punched holes in the officer’s credibility.
When the prosecutor decided to “take shots” at the police chief, said Sturino, he was also distancing himself from a witness that would have hurt his case.
“Mr. Halprin did bring some matters to our attention that affected the quality of the government’s case,” Acosta told the court.