Will County judge finds Joliet officer not guilty of reckless discharge of firearm

Joliet police chief says internal investigation will continue after verdict

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A Joliet police officer’s attorney accused the police chief of not supporting “front-line” officers after his client was acquitted of recklessly firing a gun during a domestic dispute.

On Tuesday, Will County Judge Daniel Kennedy found officer Nicholas Crowley, 37, not guilty of reckless discharge of a firearm.

Kennedy criticized the actions and behavior of Crowley and his fiancée Cassandra Socha, 33, also a Joliet police officer, during the chaotic night of drinking and arguing that led to Crowley’s arrest last July.

“You both broke your oaths,” Kennedy said.

He nevertheless ruled that Special Prosecutor Lorinda Lamken did not meet the burden of proof to show Crowley was guilty of reckless discharge of a firearm. He said there was no direct evidence of how the gun was discharged.

Socha testified that she thought the gunshot that occurred in her townhome last July was an accident, after her protective pit bull, Gia, behaved aggressively toward Crowley while the two argued.

Lamken said she respectfully disagreed with Kennedy’s decision.

Joliet Police Chief Brian Benton said the administrative investigation of Crowley will continue to determine if there were departmental policy violations. He said evidence in the trial and grand jury transcripts will be used in the investigation.

Benton said Crowley will remain on administrative duty with pay. In April, he was assigned to an information desk in City Hall following months of being on paid leave.

Crowley’s attorney Jeff Tomczak accused the police brass and Joliet Police Chief Brian Benton of not supporting the “front-line guys.” Tomczak then recommended that separate law enforcement agencies handle investigations of officers charged with crimes.

He also said he believed morale was low among officers based on his conversations with some of them.

“I just want things to improve. …These guys need to stick together and know everybody has their back,” Tomczak said.

Benton declined to comment about Tomczak’s statements. He said the criminal case was an “unfortunate situation” for the department, the officers have difficult jobs and he’s very proud of the department.

“I hope this incident doesn’t in any way impact the public’s confidence in our department. I still believe we have a high level of credibility with our community,” Benton said.

Joliet Police Sgt. Patrick Cardwell, president of the department’s Fraternal Order of Police Supervisor's Association, said Tomczak’s statements about the department were “false and misleading” and called his comments about Benton a “cheap shot” that was “inappropriate.”

“For him to be listening to some bad, non-credible sources is inappropriate,” Cardwell said.

After Kennedy’s verdict, Crowley was hugging with crying family members outside the courtroom. He declined to comment about the trial.

The evidence used in the trial was limited because of motions Tomczak and Lamken, who was brought on as a special prosecutor because the case posed a conflict of interest for the Will County State’s Attorney’s Office, filed.

Kennedy allowed for Crowley’s statements in an administrative hearing to be barred but not Socha’s. Tomczak repeatedly objected to Socha’s statements to internal affairs being used in trial and argued they were coerced under the threat of her being fired.

During the trial, Lamken questioned Socha at times about statements she allegedly made to internal affairs after the incident that were apparently at odds with some of her court testimony.

Crowley was charged with recklessly firing his gun inside Socha's townhome after a night of drinking and a heated argument between the two in July.

Crowley had also been charged with domestic battery and criminal damage to property but a grand jury declined to indict him.