If there was simmering mistrust between Joliet police and City Hall before, the false allegations made by Mayor Bob O’Dekirk against a police sergeant and his public comments in the aftermath may bring it to a boil.
Rather than launching an investigation into the police chief, O’Dekirk should offer some explanation for his actions. Or he could just apologize.
Police Chief Al Roechner’s account of what happened is laid out in documents obtained by the Herald-News. According to Roechner, as the mayor and the police chief made a public appearance at the Fiesta en la Calle on Sept. 14, O’Dekirk told him Sgt. Lindsey Heavener was drinking while on duty at the festival. In a text message hours later, he wrote Roechner and interim City Manager Steve Jones that Heavener had been “drunk as a skunk in uniform” that day.
Roechner said O’Dekirk pushed him to “take action,” and Roechner did, ordering Sgt. Lindsey Heavener to take both a blood and urine test for drugs and alcohol that night. The test results came back clean. Heavener almost certainly wasn’t “drunk as a skunk” that day.
Roechner says O’Dekirk told him he had received “multiple complaints from citizens and fellow officers,” but only one person has come forward to back up the story – Joliet police Detective Joe Clement, who is assigned to the mayor’s office and is closely associated with O’Dekirk. Clement told investigators that he saw Heavener drinking tequila at the festival, drunk and slurring his words.
After the Herald-News exclusive, O’Dekirk announced an investigation of police officials and, in an interview on WJOL-AM radio, attributed the controversy to a handful of “convincing liars” at the police department.
Such comments from the mayor damage police credibility – unless they’re true.
To believe Roechner is lying, you would have to believe that the mayor told him one of his officers was drinking on duty at a public festival and that Roechner spoke to the officer for 10 minutes and either couldn’t tell or ignored it. That almost certainly would have cost Roechner his job and exposed the city to major liability.
Then you’d have to believe that Heavener went from being “drunk as a skunk” to having clean blood and urine less than eight hours later.
And then you’d have to believe that Roechner put a fabricated story in writing, citing facts about contacts with people that easily could be disproved, enlisted the deputy chief to do likewise, and sent it to his boss, the city manager.
The public has no reason to believe that’s the case.
It appears the real transgression committed by both Heavener and Roechner is disloyalty. O’Dekirk believed Heavener was spreading rumors about him, and he was tired of it, according to Roechner’s account. Roechner didn’t do what the mayor wanted – use allegations Heavener was drinking on duty that day as a pretext to place him on administrative leave.
Likewise, the truthfulness of Officer Clement’s statement to police investigators that he saw Heavener drinking tequila and slurring his words seems dubious at best. If there’s to be an investigation, this statement deserves some scrutiny, too.
If this was a misunderstanding that got out of hand, an apology from the mayor and a renewed commitment to working with police would go a long way. Police in Joliet have enough to do without worrying that they’re being set up by the people who are supposed to be on their side.