McHenry Democrats protest sheriff hiring friend with 2 convictions

 
 
Updated 2/23/2015 9:07 PM
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  • Bill Prim

    Bill Prim

  • McHenry County Democrats protested Sheriff Bill Prim's hiring of Matt McNamara to a leadership role in the department despite two convictions he has for DUI and assault. The sheriff defends McNamara as well-qualified.

    McHenry County Democrats protested Sheriff Bill Prim's hiring of Matt McNamara to a leadership role in the department despite two convictions he has for DUI and assault. The sheriff defends McNamara as well-qualified. Courtesy of Democratic Party of McHenry Party

The hiring of a man with assault and DUI convictions for a top post within the McHenry County sheriff's department is either about cronyism or political pressure, McHenry County Democrats say.

McHenry County Sheriff Bill Prim, a Republican who started the job in December, hired Matt McNamara, his former campaign manager, as deputy chief of patrol Jan. 20.

McNamara was convicted of simple assault, a misdemeanor, and fined $500 after a 2001 bar fight in Iowa, and was found guilty of misdemeanor DUI and fined $500 in 2013 in Arizona, officials said.

His hiring "sends a terrible message," said Michael Bissett, chairman of the Democratic Party of McHenry County. Bissett and about 20 others protested Saturday outside the Holiday Inn in Crystal Lake, where county Republicans held a dinner, Bissett said.

"Sometimes a person who's a friend proves to be the most qualified person for the job, but it sends a terrible message to the public because he has repeatedly violated the law in the ways that he has," he said. "If it's not cronyism, then maybe (Prim) was under pressure to hire him, and that makes me wonder who's really running the sheriff's department."

McNamara did not return a call seeking comment.

McNamara's experience and training "were an exceptionally good fit for the duties which he was employed to carry out," Prim said in a statement.

He had been vetted by the U.S. Secret Service to be on the bodyguard detail of former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, and he was on the security detail of Gov. Bruce Rauner before Rauner was elected, Prim said.

"Furthermore, I knew him personally, having worked with him at the Des Plaines Police Department," Prim said. "All of these factors went into my decision."

Bissett said he believes that someone with McNamara's background wouldn't be considered for entry-level positions for most law enforcement agencies, but David Devane, chief administrative officer for the sheriff's department, said there's "no hard and fast rule" about that.

McNamara is a graduate of the School of Police Staff and Command at Northwestern University's Center for Public Safety and has extensive background in tactical training, which is among his current supervisory duties, Devane said.

McNamara was reported to have punched two women in Iowa but faced no charges related to that, Devane said. Protesters on Saturday included domestic violence advocates, Bissett said.

Democratic Party representatives might stage more protests and attend the next meeting of the McHenry County Board's law and justice committee March 2, Bissett said.

Prim ran against Independent James T. "Jim" Harrison, who had raised questions about whether Prim was planning to hire McNamara as his undersheriff.

Devane questioned the motive behind Saturday's protest. "A party chairman being part of a demonstration sure seems to me like a carry-over from a failed political campaign," he said.

Bissett said it's just about holding the sheriff's office accountable. "He's a new sheriff," he said. "He's got a chance to create a new atmosphere of openness and transparency, and one of his first decisions seems like he's going in the opposite direction."

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