Crest Hill dismissed from lawsuit over dispatcher’s 2018 death

Attorney claims she has ‘plenty of evidence’ to still show a former Crest Hill police officer was responsible for Samantha Harer’s death

A federal judge dismissed the city of Crest Hill from a lawsuit filed by the parents of a dispatcher who died by suicide in 2018.

In their lawsuit, Kevin and Heather Harer accuse the Crest Hill Police Department of failing to address the misconduct of Felipe “Phil” Flores, a former officer with that department, who was with their daughter, Samantha, when she died of a gunshot wound to the head in her Channahon apartment. Flores and Samantha Harer, 23, had dated before she died.

The Will County Coroner’s Office ruled Harer’s death a suicide.

Samantha Harer’s parents accuse Flores in the lawsuit of being responsible for their daughter’s death.

Harer’s parents also named the city of Crest Hill, the village of Channahon, Channahon Police Chief Shane Casey, Channahon Deputy Police Chief Adam Bogart and Channahon police Detective Andrew McClellan in their lawsuit, although the counts against those defendants have since been dismissed.

Harer’s parents sued in October 2018.

Judge Robert Gettleman wrote in his order Wednesday that the allegations in the lawsuit “stem from purely private conduct” and that Crest Hill could not be held liable for Flores’ conduct since he was off duty at the time. Flores was never charged in connection with Samantha Harer’s death.

Gettleman cited a federal appeals court ruling from earlier this year which said the city of Chicago could not be held liable for one of its officers shooting and permanently injuring a friend while he was off duty.

Jennifer Bonjean, the attorney for Samantha Harer’s parents, said it was “not really surprising” that Crest Hill was dismissed considering the ruling involving Chicago.

“We didn’t even really fight it,” she said.

The village of Channahon and the three members of the Channahon Police Department were dismissed from the lawsuit last year. The Harer’s parents had alleged in their lawsuit the Channahon Police Department conducted a “faulty investigation” of their daughter’s death and tried to protect Flores.

Samantha Harer’s parents could refile the lawsuit against Channahon and the members of the police department since it was dismissed without prejudice, but Bonjean said she was “not at that point.” She said she believe the Channahon Police Department’s investigation of Samantha Harer’s death was “designed to protect” Flores.

If evidence was found indicating Channahon did something to hinder the case against Flores, Bonjean said, she believes she would have two years to refile the lawsuit against the village and the members of the department.

James Murphy, an attorney who represented Channahon, said the plaintiffs would effectively have to lose their lawsuit against Flores and prove that was because of action Channahon police took to thwart the case. Murphy said that possibility seemed “highly improbable” to him.

Murphy pointed to the measures investigators took, including the use of 3D scanning technology on the room where Samantha Harer was found and the involvement of the Will-Grundy Major Crimes Task Force.

“If somebody was going to cover this up, they don’t call the major crimes task force,” Murphy said.

Moreover, Bonjean said, the lawsuit against Flores himself is “not going anywhere.” Heather and Kevin Harer have consistently accused him of causing their daughter’s death.

“We have plenty of evidence to demonstrate that he’s liable,” Bonjean said of Flores.

Flores’ attorney, Michael Bersani, said the accusations against his client in the lawsuit were “baseless.” Bersani said that since both municipalities had been dismissed, he expected the federal court to dismiss the lawsuit entirely because it would no longer have jurisdiction.

Bersani said if the judge didn’t relinquish jurisdiction, he would file a motion to have it tossed from federal court, though he didn’t have an exact timeline for when that might happen.

“It’ll be pretty soon,” Bersani said.

Bonjean said she would object to the lawsuit being dismissed from federal court. If it is dismissed, she said, she would refile it at the state level.

Bonjean added that she hopes the case will go to trial before the end of the year after experts brought in to examine evidence have finished their discovery process.

Attorneys representing Crest Hill did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz is a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet. Originally from Romeoville, Ill., he joined The Herald-News in 2017 and mostly covers Will County government, politics, education and more. He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree from Northwestern University.