DeKALB – DeKalb Police Sgt. Jeffrey Weese, who was found in violation of the DeKalb Police Department's use of force policy following an August 2019 arrest when he choked a man, resigned from the department, according to documents obtained by the Daily Chronicle.
The resignation was approved Oct. 30 and goes into effect on Feb. 28, documents show. Until that time, Weese will be on paid administrative leave, which began Nov. 1. According to the resignation agreement obtained by the Daily Chronicle through the Freedom of Information Act, the 15-year veteran of the department will be paid out using his accrued time off, including compensated vacation and sick leave.
The contract states Weese decided to resign "freely and voluntarily, on the advice of his personal attorneys."
"The City, through interim Police Chief Bob Redel, and Sgt. Weese, individually and through his personal attorney and Union representatives, have met, conferred, and determined that it is in their mutual best interests that Sgt. Weese resign his employment," the contract states.
According to a statement provided to the Daily Chronicle by DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas, Weese will not exercise any police powers on behalf of the City of DeKalb from now on, even though his resignation isn't effective until February.
"We respect Sgt. Weese's decision," Nicklas said. "He has voluntarily resigned to pursue other opportunities."
It's been 444 days since Weese was captured on video from squad car dashboard camera and bystander cell phone footage wrapping his arm around the neck of Elonte McDowell, a Black man from Aurora, in what a police forensic doctor later described as a chokehold during a traffic stop and drug arrest Aug. 24, 2019.
DeKalb police had received a tip that McDowell was coming to DeKalb to sell marijuana. Weese was placed on desk duty and then suspended, the subject of multiple internal and external use of force investigations, and the catalyst of continued calls for local police reform in DeKalb.
When asked in July whether there was an avenue to fire Weese as a followup to a list of demands by the Black Lives Matter chapter, city officials said it would be "very difficult if not impossible" to fire the police sergeant, citing the union contract and stipulations of Weese's suspension.
The terms of the resignation contract include a non-disparagement clause, an agreement that Weese can't withdraw his resignation, and that Weese agrees to not pursue any legal action against the City of DeKalb, or allege discrimination in any way.
After Feb. 28, he will remain on the city's health insurance plan until July 1, though he's able to seek unemployment benefits or other job opportunities during that time, documents show.
The FOP contract was amended in March to include wage increases for all level of members, from patrol officers to police sergeants, which showed a sergeant at Weese's level would be making $52.69 an hour beginning Jan. 1 of 2020.
The resignation contract is dated Oct. 30, and was agreed upon by Weese, who's a member of the DeKalb Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 115, and the City of DeKalb. The document was signed by Weese, DeKalb Interim Police Chief Bob Redel and a Representative of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council.
From Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, Weese will be on paid administrative leave, and beginning Jan. 1 through Feb. 28, he'll be on leave but paid using his accrued time off, the contract states.
Per the contract, the city has also agreed to provide any future job employment references on Weese's behalf, which will include his "inclusive dates of employment with the City, his job title, and that he voluntarily resigned," the document states.
"The parties further agree to not disparage one another to any third party or City officer/employee, either privately or publicly," the document states.
Under the contract, Weese is still eligible to receive unemployment.
Under the Illinois Pension Code, Weese is still able to collect a pension worth 2.5% of his salary once he turns 60 years old if he does not apply for a refund of contributions, since he had been with the department for more than eight years but less than 20 years and was not convicted of a felony, confirmed city officials Wednesday. Though he wouldn't be able to earn half or 75% of his salary, since he hasn't served 20 years with the department, he still could eventually collect what pension funds he had earned to date.
"If the grand jury had indicted of him ... that could have rendered him ineligible [for his pension]," DeKalb City Attorney Matthew Rose said Wednesday. "But there's nothing here that's rendering him ineligible.”
Under Weese's contract, Rose said, he would be able to make a claim for disability pension if he had a disability. Rose said such claims would be subject to evaluation from three doctors appointed by the DeKalb Police Pension Board.
"There's no pending disability applications for him ... not that I'm aware of," Rose said. "There weren't at the time of the agreement."
Over a year later
The arrest gained national attention as McDowell yelled "I can't breathe," while Weese's arm was wrapped around him. McDowell was also tased while in the chokehold by a DeKalb County Sheriff's deputy.
Months later, calls for Weese's termination were renewed, emboldened this past summer during Black Lives Matter marches and protests spurred by the death of George Floyd which set off a local and national reckoning on race and police accountability across the country.
Weese was placed on desk duty pending an investigation by the Illinois State Police, which later included a DeKalb County grand jury who in December declined to press criminal charges against Weese. In February, after an internal investigation by the DeKalb Police Department, Weese was placed on unpaid suspension for up to 30 days, ordered to undergo cultural competency training and prohibited from being promoted for a year.
During the ISP investigation, Weese maintained he did not prevent McDowell from breathing and only wrestled him to the ground to prevent him from escaping before being arrested. He said McDowell saying "I can't breathe" was "just a huge buzz phrase in the media."
In cellphone video of the incident, Weese was seen tapping McDowell's face after he was handcuffed and saying, "You're OK, big boy, it's a nice fake."
Weese's disciplinary record – including a finding by an internal investigation headed up by former DeKalb interim Police Chief John Petragallo that Weese had violated the department's use of force policy – will remain on his professional record following his departure from the department, Rose said.
"Sgt. Weese’s prior discipline is a public record which is not purged by this agreement," Rose said. "The non-disparagement clause should not bar the City from making any truthful statements pertaining to the facts of his prior discipline."
In February, when the findings were released, Petragallo said, "At times, we make mistakes and fall short of our mission," and vowed to be "transparent, hold ourselves accountable for our actions and work to ensure incidents like these do not occur in the future."
Daily Chronicle reporter Katie Finlon contributed to this story.
This story was updated at 11:15 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11 with additional comments from city attorney Matthew Rose.