Accused Streamwood officer's file paints a glowing picture

  • James Mandarino, the Streamwood police officer accused of beating a motorist with a baton during a traffic stop as captured by his dashboard video camera, top, exits the Cook County courthouse at 26th and California in Chicago April 15.

    James Mandarino, the Streamwood police officer accused of beating a motorist with a baton during a traffic stop as captured by his dashboard video camera, top, exits the Cook County courthouse at 26th and California in Chicago April 15. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted4/23/2010 12:01 AM

The Streamwood police officer charged in the beating of a 28-year-old driver and the Tasering of his 38-year-old passenger had an exemplary, nearly flawless record before the March 28 incident, according to his personnel files.

The 15-year employment record of Streamwood police Cpl. James Mandarino, 41, obtained by the Daily Herald through a Freedom of Information Act request, includes only one written reprimand for an incident ruled "neglect of duty."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

And according to Mandarino's annual performance reviews, only twice in the past decade has he received a score less than "Above Average" or "Outstanding" in any category. His file also includes personal letters from residents thanking him for his assistance and complimenting his integrity and compassion.

Last week, Mandarino was charged with aggravated battery and official misconduct after an Illinois State Police and Cook County state's attorney's investigation into his use of force in an incident recorded by Mandarino's own squad car camera.

The video appeared to show Mandarino striking Streamwood resident Ronald Bell 15 times on the head and shoulders while Bell knelt, unresisting, in his own driveway after a predawn traffic stop.

Bell was treated for a concussion and cuts and bruises, and had seven stitches at St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates.

The one reprimand in Mandarino's file involves a March 28, 2009, incident, where he was overseeing the 3 a.m. search of a commercial building after the burglar alarm went off. During the search, a civilian was bit by a police dog after the two were accidentally allowed to come into contact.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But even this single reprimand included compliments.

"I appreciate your complete honesty in reporting this incident, as well as your willingness to accept responsibility for your actions," Police Chief Alan Popp wrote in the internal memo. "Your integrity is beyond reproach, a characteristic that is absolutely imperative in functioning as a Corporal, supervisor and police officer in our organization."

Streamwood police assigned Mandarino to the regional Northern Illinois Police Alarm System Emergency Services Team, with which he both worked and received accolades from such surrounding departments as Hanover Park, Hoffman Estates and Schaumburg.

Jon Loevy, the attorney for Ronald Bell and his passenger, Nolan Stalbaum of Glendale Heights, said his firm's "hundreds" of cases against the Chicago Police Department over a decade lead him to question the accuracy of any officer's personnel records, even though he's had no previous experience with Streamwood.

"I don't accept the premise that the documents the police department chooses to release tell the whole story," Loevy said. "They release what they want to release and don't release what they don't want to release."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Streamwood Police Department's command staff sought out the independent investigation the day after the March 28 beating. Mandarino was put on station-only duty at the start of the investigation and administrative leave afterward.

Both Mandarino and his attorney, Edmond Wanderling, have declined to comment on the case. At last week's court hearing, Mandarino was released on $50,000 bond. Wanderling did not return phone calls this week.

Streamwood officials released a statement last week that their prompt handling of the case affirmed their commitment to the community, but they declined further comment on Mandarino Thursday.

Other notes from Mandarino's personnel file:

• In the cover letter to the 2009 evaluation, Cmdr. Randy Hart wrote to Deputy Chief James Keegan: "Jim (Mandarino's) work ethic, job knowledge and decision-making ability are second to none. During serious situations fellow officers are naturally drawn to his advice and later to his constructive criticism during debriefs. He always seeks ways to improve. ... Jim sets an example for all to follow and it is a pleasure working with him."

• In the category of "Conduct With Persons/Public Relations," his supervisor wrote: "During this past year I have had no negative comments from the public concerning Cpl. Mandarino. He has received several letters from outside agencies commending his assistance during warrant executions and conduct during high risk situations."

• In 2000, he received an uncharacteristically low "Satisfactory" score for "Cooperation and Attitude" with the criticism that he needed to work more closely with officers in other units.

• In 2003, he received his only other "Satisfactory" score for "Dependability/Reliability" for taking more than his usual amount of sick time - 47 hours.

• The strongest criticism in his rookie year review was that he presented himself "stiffly and mechanically to citizens" despite improvement throughout the year.

If convicted of the felonies he's accused of, Mandarino faces two to five years in state prison.

The original charge against Bell of driving under the influence and the charges of obstruction of justice against Bell and Stalbaum have been dropped by the state's attorney's office.

Bell's brother, Stacey Bell, said he's heard rumors of both good and bad attributed to Mandarino. But whichever case is true, it neither justifies nor excuses the behavior he personally witnessed in front of his house on March 28, he said.

"Just because he's a police officer doesn't make him any different from anyone else," Stacey Bell said. "You see a lot of good people go bad every day. My wife said everybody's a good person until he's caught."

His brother's attorney, Loevy, said establishing a pattern of past behavior usually has little to do with the prosecution of a particular incident, except in cases where an officer is found to be so problematic that their supervisors bear legal responsibility for allowing it to continue.

But at a news conference last week, Stacey Bell complimented the way other Streamwood officers handled the aftermath of the incident.