September 19, 2021

$500,000 pension day arrives for Joliet police officer awaiting discharge hearing

Nagra on paid leave since January awaiting discharge hearing

Monday could be worth about $500,000 to Brian Nagra, the Joliet police officer who has been on paid leave since an attempt to fire him was initiated in January.

Nagra hasn't worked since.

But he has collected more than $45,000 in pay and has been able to look forward to an anniversary date that is an aspiration for many officers when they join a police force.

Nagra been kept on the payroll, building up pension benefits, and reaches his 20-year anniversary date with the police department on Monday. That anniversary could be worth $500,000 in future pension benefits to Nagra, who is now 42, even if his discharge from the police department holds up.

Now that Nagra's 20-year date has arrived, the hearing that could lead to his dismissal may be close to being held by the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners.

"I sent an email to the city attorney just yesterday that we can have a hearing in July," said Tamara Cummings, the attorney representing Nagra.

City Attorney Chris Regis did not return calls for comment, so it remains to be seen whether hearings will be held in July for both Nagra and Lionel Allen, a second police officer that was discharged the same day and also has been kept on the payroll.

But Regis previously has said that he had delayed bringing the charges to the police board for the sake of due process and to give Cummings time to do her due diligence in preparing a defense.

Regis has repeatedly said Nagra's pension status was not an issue to be considered in the proceedings.

Cummings said six months is not a long time in police disciplinary cases.

"In a perfect world this would be a speedy process," she said. "I've been doing this for 25 years, and this is not an unusual amount of time."

Cummings, who defends police officers in disciplinary cases for the Fraternal Order of Police, said she was unaware of Nagra's pension status and had not discussed it with him.

In Joliet, however, questions have been raised over the length of time taken to bring the charges to the police board.

Police Chief Al Roechner told the board at a March meeting that he had expected a hearing to be held within 30 days after the police department handed in paperwork in January for the dismissals of Nagra and Allen. He also said he was disturbed that the two officers continued to be get paid.

Nagra and Allen have been paid more than $45,000 this year, money that they will keep whether or not they are fired.

The reasons for their discharge have never been made public because the charges have yet to be brought to the police board.

The city's rules for the police board, based on state law, require that a hearing be held within 30 days after charges are brought to the board.

John Broihier, an attorney for the Illinois Fire and Police Commissioners Association who is not involved in the Joliet case but commented on board procedures, said the 30-day calendar does not start start until charges are actually filed.

"The commission has not seen charges yet, so nothing is pending before them, and that 30-day calendar is not active," Broihier said.

He noted when the board does get the charges, it can continue a hearing to give attorneys time to prepare cases.

In the Nagra and Allen cases, the decisions on how much time was needed to prepare the cases have been made by the attorneys in the case – Regis and Cummings.

The June 17 date is an important one for Nagra because he becomes eligible at 20 years of service to begin collecting his pension at age 50. If he was fired or taken off the payroll before Monday, he could not collect until he reached 60.

Being fired does not disqualify Nagra from collecting a pension.

His pension would be half his salary for one year prior to retirement.

Based on Nagra's regular pay in 2018 of $104,333, his annual pension should be at least $50,000 a year. The extra 10 years he would get by reaching the 20-year mark Monday would be worth at least $500,000.

But Cummings said both Nagra and Allen intend to get their jobs back.

"I can't discuss the allegations or the specifics, but we've always indicated we're willing to consider reasonable discipline," Cummings said. "But we don't believe termination is warranted."

Bob Okon

Bob Okon

Bob Okon covers local government for The Herald-News