A fundraiser to help pay the legal fees of a Streamwood police officer charged with beating a motorist in March has sparked the anger of the victim's family and the disfavor of village officials.
But the union attorney representing the rank-and-file officers who organized the event said they have greater reason to be outraged over the "rush to judgment" on the part of the Cook County state's attorney's office.
A squad car camera captured Cpl. James Mandarino repeatedly striking Ronald Bell, 28, following a traffic stop in the early morning hours of March 28. The recording helped lead Cook County prosecutors to charge Mandarino with aggravated battery and official misconduct, both felonies.
Stacey Bell, Ronald's brother, said the family's initial anguish over the incident was somewhat relieved then the village and its police department issued statements appearing to distance themselves from Mandarino's actions.
But news that Mandarino's fellow officers were holding a fundraiser for him Friday afternoon at Bartlett's Fireman's Hall left them not knowing whom to believe, he said.
"We don't know if it's just a few select officers," Stacey Bell said. "They're all public officers and they're all supposed to follow the orders of the administration. Do I feel safe in Streamwood knowing this? No, I don't."
The March incident occurred in the driveway where Ronald Bell lives with his brother and his brother's wife. Stacey Bell said he hopes to move from the village as soon as possible.
Village Manager Gary O'Rourke said the Friday afternoon fundraiser was something he learned of only hours before it started, and which he and other village officials do not endorse.
"We would not in any way allow use of village time or resources for this," O'Rourke said. "I think the village and police department's stance on this has been clear. I would hope it does not indicate any officer or group of officers condoning the actions we observed."
But O'Rourke said any employer only has limited control over its employees' use of their free time. Though he did not want it to occur, he said he hoped its inspiration sprang from a sense of camaraderie with a colleague rather than an endorsement of Mandarino's alleged actions.
Richard Reimer, attorney for the Metropolitan Alliance of Police which represents Streamwood officers, said the fundraiser was sparked by anger at the state's attorney's office for the apparent ease with which an officer acting in the line of duty can be prosecuted.
"You have a prosecutor sitting in an ivory tower second-guessing a police officer based on a videotape without audio," Reimer said.
Though Reimer is not representing Mandarino in his criminal case, he was present during the statement Mandarino was required to make after the incident, he said.
"(Mandarino's) probably the best witness I've ever seen," Reimer said. "He was able to clearly and logically explain, frame by frame, what he was doing and why he was doing it, based on his training."
Reimer said officers at the fundraiser represented not only Streamwood's department but other agencies familiar with Mandarino both personally and professionally.
A copy of Mandarino's employment record with Streamwood obtained by the Daily Herald through a Freedom of Information Act request revealed only one prior reprimand for neglect of duty.
He is scheduled to appear in court on the charges June 30.