Columns

Hosey: Cops coddled, but the chief? Fire away

The people running Joliet put up with an awful lot when it comes to the cops.

You could falsify your time sheets and steal thousands of dollars in unworked overtime and still hold onto your job for months after the police chief recommends you for termination. You might even stick around just long enough to hit your 20th anniversary so you can start collecting your pension at the age of 50 instead of having to wait until you turn 60.

You can lie about a fellow officer, claim you saw him drunk on duty, and after you lose 25 days pay for that, the city manager, like an overindulgent parent, could turn around and give you all your money back.

You wouldn’t even have to worry if the police chief recommended that you be fired after an attorney determined you committed workman’s comp fraud. No, you could rest easy knowing the city manager would step in and make sure you kept your job.

In fact, it’s not inconceivable that you could get indicted on official misconduct charges for leaking evidence, supposedly in hopes of using it as a “trump card” to get yourself out of trouble in regard to an unrelated matter and still not get fired.

No, it’s not inconceivable at all. Not when you consider the police chief can’t fire you without first holding an administrative hearing.

Dawn Malec, who until Wednesday was the police chief, said she tried to schedule an administrative hearing for a cop accused of leaking evidence in an attempt to leverage himself out of his own trouble.

Malec said she went ahead with this even though she was warned by City Manager Jim Capparelli that he could fire her for it, and then Capparelli, the same city manager who saved the job of the officer accused of fraud, did fire her.

Capparelli, for his part, said he fired Malec because he “lost faith and confidence in the police chief to effectively run the Joliet Police Department.” He also wouldn’t deny what Malec said about his firing her for scheduling the hearing.

Whatever the reason, it made Malec the rare exception of someone at the police department actually getting fired, at least for a while, and resulted in the leaker cop, Sgt. Javier Esqueda, getting to keep his job since, according to an email from City Attorney Sabrina Spano, he won’t have to face an administrative hearing until the conclusion of his criminal case. Malec pointed out that this could take years.

Capparelli’s decision to fire Malec was his alone, said Mayor Bob O’Dekirk. But even if he wasn’t involved, the mayor may have been a bit pleased Esqueda didn’t have to face a hearing that could have ended his police career. After all, O’Dekirk might be somewhat grateful Esqueda leaked the video when he did.

The timing actually couldn’t have been much better for O’Dekirk, who a month before the leak was caught on video grabbing a man by the collar and dragging him away, and subsequently had activists demanding his resignation and protesting outside his home.

The leaked video of Eric Lurry overdosing in the back of a squad car after his arrest caused quite a stir and undoubtedly drew some of the negative attention away from O’Dekirk. He couldn’t have minded that too much. You’d almost think it was planned that way.

• Joe Hosey is the editor of The Herald-News. You can reach him at 815-280-4094, at jhosey@shawmedia.com or on Twitter @JoeHosey.

Joseph Hosey

Joseph Hosey

Joe Hosey became editor of The Herald-News in 2018. As a reporter, he covered the disappearance of Stacy Peterson and criminal investigation of her husband, former Bolingbrook police Sgt. Drew Peterson. He was the 2015 Illinois Journalist of the Year and 2014 National Press Club John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award winner.