Retired Gurnee police chief faced complaints of sexual harassment, more

Updated 7/31/2012 5:54 AM
  • Former Gurnee Police Chief Robert Jones

    Former Gurnee Police Chief Robert Jones

Sexual harassment and using employees for personal errands on village time were among the internal complaints former Gurnee Police Chief Robert Jones was facing when he opted to retire with a $139,600 severance deal a year ago, the Daily Herald has learned.

Those details, not released to the public or village trustees during an internal probe of Jones, were contained in documents obtained through open records requests. The village dropped the probe when Jones retired.

Mayor Kristina Kovarik repeatedly has stressed Jones was not accused of any criminal wrongdoing and that the village followed its personnel policy for the release of personal information and details of the retirement/settlement package. She's termed the accusations as "just core employee handbook violations."

However, Gurnee's personnel policy might be worth reviewing to determine if changes are needed because of the Jones case, one trustee suggests. Another trustee, who cited a lack of information in objecting to Jones' severance package last year, said the complaints support his position that transparency is needed in such instances.

Documents from Gurnee and the Illinois Attorney General's office allow a glimpse into the accusations against Jones, who initially went on paid administrative leave July 7, 2011, then resigned in September. Kovarik said Jones, who didn't return several messages seeking comment, never responded to the employee claims before his stepping down.

Many police department employees were interviewed and provided "sensitive disclosures" about Jones during the village's formal investigation into the complaints, according to a letter written in May by attorney Peter Michael Friedman. Gurnee's human resources department, a deputy police chief and a lawyer representing the village led the internal probe, Friedman wrote.

Friedman, who's handling a village response contesting a Freedom of Information Act request for documents related to Jones, said the investigation stopped with the chief's resignation on Sept. 12, 2011. By a 4-2 vote the same day, the village board approved Jones' $139,600 severance deal.

Citing Freedom of Information Act exceptions, the village blacked out sections of the complaints and eliminated all names, details of many accusations and most references to employee gender. Friedman wrote the accusations included, but were not limited to, sexual harassment and abusive conduct.

An employee came forward with a compilation of complaints that included 19 interactions from Aug. 26, 2010 to June 7, 2011 between Jones and the unnamed individual or other police personnel.

Some of the complaints filed with the village administrator's office on June 10, 2011 include:

• Jones was near the police secretaries' desks when he summoned an employee to the area on May 23, 2011. After looking at his village-issued wireless telephone, Jones asked if someone had heard of Harlequin Romance novels before reading "some type of joke."

"The chief continues to read," the complaint states, "and as he is reading is doing so in a voice like he is being passionate. The joke ... is getting increasingly more sexual in nature."

• Jones saw an employee wearing civilian clothes instead of a police uniform on Aug. 26, 2010. After asking why the worker wasn't in uniform, Jones said: "Well, I have suggestions on what you can wear: heels, nylons, garter belt and anything else is optional."

Kovarik said while Jones' agreement restricts her and other officials from commenting on the case, in general she didn't consider the joke and clothing remarks to be sexual harassment.

"My definition of sexual harassment is sex," Kovarik said. "I think I would classify that as inappropriate comments in the workplace."

• On unspecified dates since 2010, Jones directed employees to "type up baseball lineups for him," shop for his family's Christmas presents and use an official Gurnee vehicle to drive him to an airport for a personal trip -- all while on the village clock.

Jones asked one police worker on village time to enter his Gurnee house, which he wasn't living in, and "videotape everything" while the occupant was gone.

• Jones wanted community service officers and village public works employees to hang a Warren Township High School flag at police headquarters on March 17, 2011 in support of the boys basketball team. He later forced a community service officer to visit a hardware store to buy lights to illuminate the flag.

"During this entire incident, he was rude and demanding of everyone," the complaint says. "All of this took place during work hours. None of it had anything to do with work, yet he was ordering everyone to stop everything to get this flag hung up and lit."

Trustee Greg Garner, who with Kirk Morris voted against the Jones agreement, said he read the complaints since they recently became available. He said he objects to not having specifics about the employee accusations when the village board was asked to approve the retirement/separation deal last September.

Garner said he wants to know if there are other internal accusations regarding Jones that remain "under the surface." He added the village should be transparent and release sections of the complaints that are blacked out.

"Why are we hiding it? Who are we protecting? What are we hiding?" he asked.

Kovarik said public employees deserve protection from internal complaints becoming known, along with due process. She said Jones' severance package was proper and in accordance with village personnel policies.

Gurnee could have faced a large legal tab if it persisted with an investigation of Jones, she added.

"You weigh for the benefit for Joe Taxpayer," Kovarik said. "Do you conduct an investigation or do you do something against your personnel policy? Our personnel policy does provide for a separation, a sum of money at the time of separation."

Trustee Cheryl Ross said she didn't read the complaints, but voted for Jones' deal based upon assurances the police employees didn't accuse him of criminal behavior. She said Jones' case might be a reason to review the village's personnel policy.

"It might be a good idea to look at the policy manual again to see if it's time to update it," Ross said.

Jones was Gurnee's top cop from 1994 to 2011. He joined Gurnee after a 26-year career at the Elmhurst Police Department.

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