Former deputy chief accuses Des Plaines of covering up police brutality
A former Des Plaines deputy police chief has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Des Plaines, Mayor Marty Moylan, former Police Chief Jim Prandini and former City Manager Jason Slowinski in federal court, alleging they covered up police brutality.
In the complaint filed Tuesday, former Deputy Chief Richard Rozkuszka claims he was forced out of the police department on Aug. 15, 2011, for reporting the misconduct of now fired police officer John Bueno, who was under Rozkuszka's supervision as the overseer of tactical operations.
The suit states that Rozkuszka received reports from other officers within the department that Bueno "repeatedly engaged in violent and improper conduct while on duty, including beating incarcerated arrestees while in custody, and in some circumstances, while handcuffed."
Rozkuszka reported Bueno's misconduct to Prandini, who ignored it and threatened to discipline Rozkuszka if he took action against Bueno, the suit alleges.
Moylan said Thursday Rozkuszka's allegations about city administration covering up officers' misconduct are "preposterous."
Among the numerous examples of Bueno's misconduct the lawsuit alleges, Rozkuszka states Bueno fabricated testimony about how evidence was recovered from a computer in a missing child/child prostitution case, which was investigated by the Illinois Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force in the summer of 2009.
Rozkuszka claims he cooperated in the state's investigation against Bueno and that he was later criticized by Prandini for providing negative testimony against Bueno and warned that if he discussed police misconduct with outside agencies, he would be disciplined.
Also in the summer of 2009, Rozkuszka alleges Bueno "violently beat" an inmate in police custody without justification and Prandini again refused to punish him.
"The city of Des Plaines adopted a custom, policy or practice of condoning illegal conduct and the beating of prisoners, and of engaging in a cover-up to hide illegal conduct as well as to punish whistle-blowers for speaking out against such illegal practices," Rozkuszka alleges in the lawsuit.
Rozkuszka claims he reported misconduct by Bueno on at least five occasions to Prandini and was told to "drop it" or risk disciplinary action. He also claims he threatened to report the police misconduct to the Cook County sheriff's office, the Cook County state's attorney and Illinois State Police Public Integrity Unit.
In the complaint, Rozkuszka claims Prandini met with Slowinski and Moylan, who agreed to fire Rozkuszka "because of his ongoing reporting to outside agencies" of misconduct within the department, and to "cover up Bueno's ongoing criminal activity in order to avoid lawsuits against the city of Des Plaines by those Bueno had harmed."
Rozkuszka, 54, claims he was urged to "retire" after 29 years of service — 23 years with Des Plaines police department — making him ineligible for maximum pension benefits.
"They told me that I was going to either retire or be terminated but that I didn't have a choice," Rozkuszka said in a written statement released by his attorneys. "After they chilled my speech and threatened my livelihood, they fired me for doing the right thing."
"We never had any conversation of that type," Moylan said. "When we heard that there may be some wrongdoings, we promptly contacted an outside law firm and let them do their investigation. We didn't mess around with this."
The city tapped the Rosemont law firm of Clark Baird Smith to conduct the investigation, as a result of which Bueno was fired by the city in March for misconduct, while a second officer — Andy Contreras, who also was accused in a suspect's beating with Bueno — was disciplined and served a four-month suspension.
"Chief Rozkuszka wasn't even cooperative, and even though he didn't cooperate, we still took appropriate action," Moylan said.
He insisted that Rozkuszka, who he said was looking for another job, was not forced out, though he acknowledged there has been an overhaul of top management at the police department since the allegations against Bueno and Contreras surfaced.
Prandini retired in December after taking leave for back surgery. Moylan would not say whether he was asked to retire but added that ultimately the responsibility rested on Prandini's shoulders.
"There's been a lot of changes in the top administration and we feel it's for the better," Moylan said. "As soon as the administration lost faith with police management, they all moved on to other things. We feel we will have a good police force in the end."
Prandini, who lives in Mount Prospect, could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
Slowinski left the city in April to become Lake Zurich's village administrator. He could not immediately be reached for comment.
The city, Moylan, Slowinski and Prandini are charged with retaliation in violation of the First Amendment; the city is charged with retaliatory discharge and violation of the Illinois Whistleblower's Act.
Rozkuszka, of Deerfield, is demanding a jury trial. He declined to talk to a reporter Thursday under the advice of his attorneys, the Chicago law firm of Hunt and Associates.
Two other lawsuits have been filed over police conduct. Bueno and Contreras are named in a federal lawsuit alleging they beat a Villa Park man while in police custody. And Bueno and two other city cops are being sued in federal court by a Des Plaines resident who is alleging false arrest. The city is a defendant in both lawsuits.
Moylan said the city won't pay for the legal defense of the officers accused of misconduct, though it will represent Prandini as a former city employee.
"We are not in the position to defend bad police officers," he said. "We have a lot of good police officers on the force. We do not want the people accused of wrongdoing to affect the good police officers."
Bueno is attempting to get his job back and has filed a racial discrimination complaint against the city with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
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