Kadner: Calling the FBI on a ticket fix
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org March 11, 2013 10:42PM
Updated: April 13, 2013 6:25AM
If a police officer goes to the FBI every time he’s asked to fix a traffic ticket by superiors, can he be trusted?
And if the FBI investigated every such complaint, would it ever have time to arrest an organized crime figure or terrorist?
Those and many other questions came to mind due to a decision Monday by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago regarding a lawsuit by David Kristofek, a former part-time police officer in Orland Hills.
Kristofek contends that he was fired after announcing to colleagues that he had gone to the FBI to complain about a political fix in the police department. His suit seeking financial damages names the village and Police Chief Thomas Scully, who fired him.
Orland Hills administrator John Daly said the lawsuit was “frivolous” and declined further comment.
Kristofek claims that he stopped a vehicle for traffic violations in November 2010, and the driver could not provide the car’s registration or proof of insurance.
As Kristofek was writing a ticket, the driver mentioned that his mother was a former mayor of another suburb and a passenger in the car (apparently the driver’s girlfriend) handed the officer a cellphone, according to the suit. It says the caller was the driver’s mother, who asked Kristofek not to arrest her son.
By this time, other officers arrived on the scene, and Kristofek, ignoring the mother’s request, took the motorist into custody, the suit says.
Back at the police station, Kristofek was filing paperwork on the arrest when he contends that other officers told him to stop what he was doing, delete computer files related to the case and report to a deputy chief. Kristofek told the deputy chief of his displeasure at being forced to make the arrest disappear, according to the suit.
It says that at this point, the deputy chief said, “Did you not understand what you were (expletive) told?”
Remarkably, Kristofek was not fired on the spot. However, the arrest information did disappear.
Some months later, Kristofek and other officers participated in an online police training seminar, “which posed a hypothetical that was coincidentally similar to what happened in November 2010,” the lawsuit says.
It says the training simulation concluded that the supervisor in such a case committed a crime called “official misconduct,” and Kristofek came to believe that he and the other officers might also be guilty and subject to criminal and civil penalties.
The suit claims that he spoke to other officers involved in the arrest and expressed “his concerns” that they may have been involved in political corruption.
Still, Kristofek was not fired.
He then consulted with a lawyer, who suggested that he go to the FBI, which he did — telling agents about “possible political corruption in the Orland Hills Police Department and/or Village of Orland Hills” and being told there would be an investigation, according to the suit.
It says Kristofek then went back to the other officers and told them that he had contacted the FBI.
In April 2011, Kristofek states he was ordered to report to Scully who “angrily” said he had heard Kristofek was talking about political corruption and illegal activity to other officers.
Kristofek told Scully he was concerned about exposing himself and the police department to liability, “wanted no part of it” and revealed that he had gone to an “outside law enforcement agency,” the suit alleges.
Scully gave Kristofek two options — resign or be fired, according to the lawsuit, and Kristofek chose option B.
It turns out the alleged “former suburban mayor” may not have been a mayor but a former village trustee in another suburb, Kristofek’s attorney told me.
In any event, Kristofek’s case went all the way to the federal appeals court because a lower federal court ruling questioned his motivation for bringing the lawsuit.
Orland Hills had successfully claimed in the lower court that Kristofek, who claims his First Amendment rights were violated, was not protected under the Constitution because he was motivated entirely by self-interest (attempting to protect himself from civil and criminal penalties).
His attorneys are claiming his speech was of public interest because it would have exposed corruption in the police department.
The federal appeals court found for Kristofek, claiming that motivation does not trump the First Amendment. He can now proceed with his lawsuit, seeking back pay and damages.
I don’t know if anyone has opened a criminal investigation into the case, this being Illinois.
Kristofek’s attorney told me his client remains unemployed and unlikely to find a job in law enforcement, given the fact that whistle-blowing is generally frowned upon.
Personally, I’m still wondering why a guy would ever admit to superiors that he went to an outside law enforcement agency because that’s considered another “no-no” in law enforcement.
“He’s just a really naive guy,” his lawyer said.
Of course, the case seems to rest on someone ordering a fix, and now that the allegation regarding the “former mayor” is in question, you have to wonder why anyone would have risked his job for this case.
If there are current or former officers who can verify the facts as outlined in Kristofek’s story, would any of them be willing to say so and risk their jobs?
Looking the other way at wrongdoing — in law enforcement, politics or the business world — is pretty commonplace.
But wouldn’t it make everyone feel better if we knew that a legal authority investigated every charge regarding insider fixes and that no one would be punished for blowing the whistle?
Isn’t it incredibly sad that most of us believe that rarely happens?