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Rules dispute erupts over pending Joliet police firings

Pat Cardwell
Pat Cardwell

The pending firings of two Joliet police officers was the topic of a heated debate Monday with the city attorney saying some cases take “years” and the police chief saying he was “shocked” it’s already taken two months.

The Board of Fire and Police Commissioners focused primarily on an email sent last week by Sgt. Patrick Cardwell, head of the Fraternal Order of Police supervisors’ union, that questioned the time taken to bring the case to the board.

Board Chairman Herb Lande repeatedly used the words “defamatory” and “slander” referring to the email and even claimed Cardwell had accused the board of criminal activity by suggesting a conspiracy to keep the cases from coming forward.

“You have accused me of a criminal act,” Lande said in a give-and-take that went well beyond an hour.

Lande even said the board may hold a hearing later on whether Cardwell had engaged in “misconduct,” a charge recommended by another union officer representing patrol officers.

“I don’t know if that’s intimidation or if that’s a threat,” Cardwell said.

He said the point of his email was to question whether the dismissal process was following board rules concerning a hearing being held within 30 days after charges are brought.

“I feel like the process is being compromised,” Cardwell said.

The two disciplinary cases involve officers Brian Nagra and Lionel Allen, who were fired Jan. 11 but continue to collect full pay and benefits as they appeal to the fire and police board. Their annual salaries are $106,770.

At one point, interim City Attorney Chris Regis said some termination cases take “years” because of depositions and discovery done before a hearing. He did not say how long the Nagra and Allen cases could take.

Police Chief Al Roechner, however, voiced some frustration with the process.

“They’re getting paid,” Roechner said. “If this is getting dragged on and they’re getting paid, we’re not going to get that money back.”

Roechner and Deputy Chief John Perona said they believed a hearing was going to be held within 30 days after they handed in the paperwork for the dismissals of Nagra and Allen.

Both said they were “shocked” to learn that charges have not come to the board.

Regis said technically charges have not been filed yet and won’t be until both sides are ready to go to a hearing.

“What would be unreasonable and irresponsible is to bring the charges before the parties are ready for a hearing,” Regis said.

Lande’s repeated criticism of Cardwell centered on his five-sentence email that at one point called it “neglectful of this board not to recognize the police discipline cases that have been turned over” and later said “the entire discipline process with this board has been compromised.”

Emphasizing that the city has not brought any information about the cases to the board, Lande said, “How has this board compromised this whole investigation if nothing has been brought to us?”

Mike DeVito, president of the Fraternal Order of Police union for patrol officers, which represents Nagra and Allen, made a statement accusing Cardwell of misconduct.

“It’s my opinion that the intention of this email is to unduly influence the decision of this board,” DeVito said.

Cardwell and Matt Breen, vice president of the FOP union for supervisors, said they wanted clarification on the 30-day rule.

“The rules and regulations say a hearing will be held in 30 days,” Breen said. “If you’re saying now, it could be a year. It could be two years. That’s what I’ll tell my members.”

Board member Todd Wooten joined in the criticism of Cardwell, calling his email “a veiled threat” and saying, “I did take your email personally, and I do find it disrespectful.”

City and police officials have not commented on the reasons for the firings, which would be made public at a hearing.

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