Two respected and decorated River Forest police officers were suspended without pay during the summer for violating departmental procedures related to an armed robbery arrest in 2010, according to material obtained by Wednesday Journal.
That arrest, involving Micah Jefferson, of Forest Park was later the focus of a lawsuit Jefferson filed in December 2013 against the village, Det. Sgt. Martin Grill, Off. Michael Swierczynski and Det. Seth DeYoung. Jefferson alleged false arrest and/or fraud, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.
Jefferson was arrested and charged in 2010 for armed robbery. But it came to the attention of his attorney during pre-trial that two different police reports had been created for the same incident and that evidence that would have cleared Jefferson had been removed from the original report.
Jefferson was later found not guilty at a bench trial. The judge stated the changed report raised a reasonable doubt in her mind as to the guilt of the defendant, according to Grill’s suspension order.
As a result of the officers’ actions, Grill was suspended for 21 days; Swierczynski for 15 days. DeYoung was not disciplined, according to a report from the village. Grill also would be removed from the detective division and could not serve in that department for 36 months, according to Grill’s suspension notice.
According to the complaint against the village, Jefferson was arrested without reasonable grounds and imprisoned for an alleged armed robbery that occurred in the 900 block of Bonnie Brae Place in River Forest. The alleged robbery victim admitted to police he had been drinking and could not identify the alleged offender, the suit states.
Jefferson claimed in his suit that Swierczynski wrote a report on the incident in which he indicated the victim had been drinking and could not identify the offender.
According to his suspension notice, Grill amended a fully-signed and completed report of a subordinate officer, in this case Swierczynski. Rather than counseling the subordinate with respect to possible inaccuracies or mistakes in the report, Grill simply removed certain statements from the report.
According to the suspension notice, Grill “held no corrective session or consultation of any kind with the subordinate to discuss whether or not the material should be removed. At the time the report was written, no offender had been apprehended or identified. Each of the statements that were removed could have negatively affected any subsequent identification of an offender by the victim of the armed robbery,” the suspension notice stated.
The subordinate officer noted that Grill called him and he understood during this conversation that Grill was ordering him to sign the changed report. Grill did not report the changes he made to the document to his supervisors until a much later date.
According to a statement issued by River Forest Village Administrator Eric Palm, the village became aware of certain deficiencies and rule violations with “respect to the supervision, investigation and prosecution of a criminal case in 2012. The problems surrounding the prosecution of the criminal matter were brought to light when a lawsuit was filed against the village by the defendant in the criminal case.”
Palm said in a statement that Police Chief Greg Weiss immediately retained an attorney to investigate the matter. “Upon the conclusion of a thorough and lengthy investigation, the chief determined that violations of department policy had taken place,” according to the statement. Weiss imposed discipline which was accepted by the police union and the affected members.
Palm said in his statement that “while the penalties were severe, it was clear to the chief of police that it was in the best interests of the Village of River Forest and its residents that, upon serving the suspensions, these two members be permitted to continue to serve the public.’
Palm said the village board had been kept up to date on the charges and the investigation. However, he said, responsibility for disciplining officers rests with the police chief and members of the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners. He said this case was not brought to the police board, however. He said the police board was informed of Weiss’ decisions.
In February 2014, Jefferson settled the suit against the village for $20,000.
Efforts to reach Jefferson or his attorney, Patrick Campanelli, were unsuccessful. Village officials would not comment beyond the statement issued.