Fired Des Plaines police officer John Bueno has filed a federal lawsuit against the city claiming racial discrimination and repeated harassment by a superior officer went unchecked by the then-police chief and ultimately led to Bueno's retaliatory dismissal.
Bueno, who is of Mexican descent, alleges he was subjected to "unwelcome, humiliating and offensive racial slurs and anti-Hispanic comments and misconduct" from his commanding officer, former Deputy Chief Richard Rozkuszka, the suit states.
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He also claims Rozkuszka physically abused him in an effort to intimidate and humiliate. Bueno reported Rozkuszka's harassment and derogatory behavior to then-Police Chief Jim Prandini, who did nothing to stop it, the suit alleges.
Bueno filed a written complaint with Prandini in May 2011 and was suspended from the department on Oct. 31, 2011, according to the suit.
The suit seeks at least $300,000 in compensatory damages, along with undisclosed punitive damages against the city.
A 10-year veteran of the Des Plaines police department, Bueno was fired in March 2012 for misconduct after an internal investigation into allegations he used excessive force against detainees. The investigation concluded that Bueno violated the city's policy for use of force, failed to disclose his use of force, and lied about it to investigators.
City Manager Mike Bartholomew said Monday Bueno's harassment allegations are baseless and that the city will be challenging the lawsuit.
"We have disputed all of those claims," Bartholomew said. "I believe this is just another attempt to extract money out of the city. This is not a free payday for everybody who wants to file a claim."
Rozkuszka also has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Des Plaines, former Mayor Marty Moylan, former Police Chief Jim Prandini and former City Manager Jason Slowinski, alleging they covered up police brutality.
In that complaint, Rozkuszka claims he was forced out of the department on Aug. 15, 2011, for reporting Bueno's misconduct.
Rozkuszka, who oversaw tactical operations, claims he 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," according to the lawsuit.
Rozkuszka reported Bueno's misconduct to Prandini, who ignored it and threatened to discipline Rozkuszka if he took action against Bueno, the suit alleges.
Bartholomew said the lawsuits by Rozkuszka and Bueno are interrelated and internal investigations determined no merit to either man's allegations.
"Clearly there was something between the two of them or within the department," Bartholomew said. "None of the claims relative to John Bueno or Rich Rozkuszka have borne out to be fruitful. The culture has been file a claim and the city will settle. That is no longer our position."
The city is in the discovery phase on the Rozkuszka lawsuit.
"They are taking depositions from both sides," Bartholomew said. "We'll see if it proceeds to trial, settlement or dismissal. The premise is that he was forced to retire and that's just not true."
The city also is in the process of appealing a police union arbitrator's ruling calling for Bueno's reinstatement to the police department effective June 3, with which it has not complied. The arbitrator upheld the city's determination that Bueno violated the department's rules and regulations, but ruled a 15-month suspension would be sufficient punishment.
"The oral arguments of that appeal are scheduled sometime in September," Bartholomew said.
Bueno also filed a racial discrimination complaint against the city with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charging that a superior officer made derogatory and insensitive comments about his Hispanic heritage. That complaint is pending.
He also was a defendant in two lawsuits against the city and its police department alleging police brutality and mistreatment. Those suits have since been settled by the city's risk management pool, Municipal Insurance Cooperative Association, for a total of $96,500.