Disciplining police and police chiefs in Joliet

What’s next for Ex-Chief Dawn Malec?

City Manager James Capparelli was quick to hire and quick to fire Dawn Malec as police chief.

Capparelli made Malec the police chief during his first day on the job back in January.

He was so quick to fire Malec last week that Capparelli prematurely announced that she was no longer with the Joliet Police Department. Capparelli apparently learned later that he could demote but not fire her.

State law and municipal code require that police chiefs and fire chiefs who have not reached full pension eligibility be returned to their previous ranks if they are removed as chiefs.

Just what Capparelli was thinking and what kind of legal advice he got, or sought, before announcing Malec’s termination is hard to say since he has not returned calls and emails since the firing and rehiring of Malec occurred Oct. 6.

Just what Capparelli plans to do next is unclear, too.

Malec has been returned to her former rank of lieutenant and has been assigned to the city clerk’s office, an assignment typically given to officers awaiting disciplinary hearings.

Malec wants a hearing.

She wants a hearing before the City Council and a chance to get back her job as chief.

But is she entitled to a hearing?

City Attorney Sabrina Spano, who did not return calls on the matter but did answer a couple of questions when asked at City Hall after a council committee meeting she attended, said Joliet ordinances give the city manager authority to remove the police chief.

Spano also said that the police chief could be demoted but not fired.

So, why isn’t Malec returning to police duties?

Some believe that Malec can appeal her demotion to the Joliet Board of Fire and Police Commissioners or an arbitrator. I haven’t found any law providing for that.

Others suspect Capparelli will try to use the police board to complete the termination of Malec. The board rules provide for the police chief to bring discipline against police officers, not the city manager.

Malec believes she was removed because of her insistence on a hearing on disciplinary charges facing Sgt. Javier Esqueda, who also faces criminal charges for his release of police video in the Eric Lurry arrest.

If so, isn’t it interesting that a police chief would be disciplined for pursuing discipline against a police officer?

Malec is the third police chief said to feel pressure from City Hall over matters of police officer discipline, including her predecessors Al Roechner and Brian Benton.

Capparelli has said he will look outside the Joliet Police Department to find the next chief.

The job is now posted on the city’s website.

Bob Okon

Bob Okon

Bob Okon covers local government for The Herald-News