Local police officers are trained in looking for suspicious activity, investigating violations, and gathering evidence for prosecutors to use at trial. Police officers are expected to report violations, no matter who it is breaking the law. However, a former Decatur police chief has filed a lawsuit after he was allegedly fired for doing his job and reporting wrongdoings by the city manager.
Former Decatur Police Chief Brad Sweeney was not getting along with City Manager Tim Gleason. On February 1, 2016, Gleason told Chief Sweeney that he expected him to speak out in support of a motor fuel tax at the next City Council meeting. Sweeney would not offer his support on the tax matter, and Gleason told him to leave the office. The next day, a similar interaction occurred.
On February 4th, Gleason met with Sweeney asking for his resignation letter. Sweeney was not going to resign, and Gleason presented him with a resignation letter to sign. When Sweeney refused, Gleason fired the police chief.
However, there was a long history of tension between the two, going back to May of last year. According to the complaint, on May 7, 2015, Gleason ordered an on-duty, uniformed police officer to drive him to the airport in a City of Decatur police car. Gleason was not on official business, but instead was on his way to catch a plane for his vacation. According to Sweeney, Gleason's trip to the St. Louis airport took the uniformed officer out of service for at least 5 hours.
Sweeney says he confronted Gleason about the alleged illegal use of the police car. Gleason's response was the mayor at the time, Mike McElroy gave him permission to use the police vehicle. According to Sweeney, “I told him it was unethical and illegal. We don't operate like this in Decatur. We don't abuse city resources.”
According to Sweeney, Gleason responded, “Do you know who you work for? I can relieve you of your powers at any time.”
In a phone interview with the Herald & Review, Gleason called the allegations “absolute lies.” He says Brad Sweeney is aware of the reasons he was fired.
Sweeney was with the Decatur Police Department for twenty years before he was appointed chief of police on January 3, 2015 by the prior city manager. Gleason took over the city manager position on March 23, 2015. According to the complaint, Gleason was a former Pekin police officer, and should have known that the personal use of the chauffeured police vehicle was against police policy, and against the law.
Sweeney is suing for violations under the Illinois Whistleblower Act. Under state law, employees are protected from retaliation when they disclose what they reasonably believe to be a violation of state law or regulation. In this case, Sweeney reported Gleason's wrongdoing by using the police car for personal use, and Sweeney alleges this played a role in his being fired. He is seeking reinstatement of his position, back pay with interest, lost pension payments, court costs, and punitive damages.