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Local News

Braidwood deputy police chief alleges sexual harassment, discrimination

BRAIDWOOD – A Braidwood deputy police chief is accusing the police chief of sexual harassment and retaliation while also alleging the mayor has done nothing in response.

Allegations of harassment and discrimination are laid out in charges filed June 23 by Deputy Chief Michelle Soucie with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. The Herald-News obtained the allegations through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Soucie filed similar charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – a federal agency that enforces laws against workplace discrimination – but the agency’s investigation of the charges was inconclusive.

In her new discrimination charges, Soucie alleges Braidwood officials disclosed to local media she filed EEOC charges in violation of federal regulations and further retaliation.

She has been on paid leave since January and is under an Illinois State Police investigation over allegations of theft, Braidwood Police Chief Nick Ficarello said

A message to Soucie and calls to Braidwood Mayor James Vehrs were not immediately returned Tuesday.

Braidwood Attorney Bryan Kopman said city officials had no comment other than that they are sure the IDHR will take a close look at the matter.

“We would expect that the result would be the same, which is a dismissal of her complaint," Kopman said.

IDHR Spokesman Michael Theodore said in an email he was unable to provide details about a pending investigation of the discrimination charges.

Ficarello said he received a copy of Soucie’s charges last Friday. He said the previous EEOC complaint was dropped and he expects these charges will be dropped as well. When asked why, he deferred to the Braidwood attorneys.

When asked about the discrimination charges filed with IDHR on July 7, Ficarello has said he believed it was another distraction from the ISP’s investigation.

In Soucie’s charges filed with IDHR, she alleges the sexual harassment and discrimination has been taking ongoing since July 2015. Soucie was named deputy chief after Ficarello was hired in April 2015.

Soucie alleges Ficarello subjected her to a “continuous stream of negative and sexually suggestive comments” and bragging about the number of women he had slept with, as well as insisting she drink alcohol at inappropriate times and wear high-heeled shoes.

“These comments and actions created a hostile work environment for me within the Village of Braidwood Police Department,” Soucie stated.

She also alleged she developed a disability on the job as a result of the hostile work environment created by Ficarello and after she disclosed to him that she had been prescribed medication, he subjected her to “taunting and derogatory comments about my disability” and that she takes medication for it.

She alleged she’s been on paid leave since Jan. 17 pending an investigation, which has been longer than when a male officer was placed on leave in the past and that Ficarello has questioned her loyalty to the police and him because of her marriage.

Vehrs was notified of Ficarello’s conduct by Soucie’s husband and he allegedly did nothing in response but instead informed Ficarello and others of her concerns so they would “mock me and retaliate against me.”

“[Vehrs] left a mocking voicemail message for me, implying that I am thin-skinned for taking offense at [Ficarello’s] misconduct,” she stated.

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