$85,901 and still counting: What investigation of Island Lake cops has cost the village
The confidential investigation that led to the firing of Island Lake's police chief, a sergeant and another officer last year has cost taxpayers nearly $86,000 in legal fees, village records show -- and at least one more payout is pending.
Most of the bills from attorney Yvette Heintzelman and her Rosemont-based firm, Clark Baird Smith, were generated in September and October, near the start of the investigation. The village paid the firm more than $62,146 for work performed during those two months alone, according to invoices and municipal payment records reviewed by the Daily Herald under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
Village officials defended the cost of the investigation, saying it has led to positive changes in the police department and at village hall.
"It's been needed for years," Trustee Charles Cermak said.
Heintzelman specializes in labor cases and is a partner in the law firm, her professional biography indicates.
The village board voted in September to hire Heintzelman to investigate complaints of harassment involving the police department and village employees. The nature of those complaints weren't made public.
The firm's bills have totaled more than $85,901 through this March, records show. A bill for April's services is pending, village officials said.
Two weeks into the investigation, Chief Anthony Sciarrone and Sgt. Billy Dickerson were placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the inquiry.
The following month, Heintzelman privately delivered a report that officials said was highly critical of police department practices. The Daily Herald asked for a copy under the Freedom of Information Act, but the village denied the request, citing exemptions to the law.
At the board's October meeting, Sciarrone was fired for what Trustee Mark Beeson described as "gross incompetence" that included poor record keeping and running the department "with fear and intimidation."
At the time, Eric Miller, a lawyer working for Sciarrone, called the investigation "a witch hunt against a veteran police officer who has dedicated much of his professional life to protecting the public safety of the residents of Island Lake."
Sciarrone, who was succeeded as chief by Dan Palmer, hasn't responded to repeated interview requests. Miller couldn't be reached Tuesday.
It was Sciarrone's second stint as chief. He'd been named interim chief in 2008 but placed on administrative leave by then-Mayor Debbie Herrmann in 2010 and later demoted to sergeant.
Sciarrone left the department in 2011 and was elected a village trustee in 2013. He was named chief again in 2015, resigning from the board to take the job. He unsuccessfully ran for re-election to the board this spring.
Charles Mader, a part-time Island Lake police officer reportedly working as an internal investigator under Sciarrone, was investigated and fired last fall. Joseph Rivera, another part-time officer working as an internal investigator, resigned.
Dickerson was fired in January as a result of the inquiry. He couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.
'Absolutely' worth it
The payments to Clark Baird Smith represent nearly 1 percent of the village's $8.9 million budget for the 2019 fiscal year, which ended Tuesday.
Island Lake Trustee Charles Cermak voted against hiring Heintzelman last year but now supports her work.
When things happen behind the scenes, Cermak said, "it's good to get them all out."
As for the cost of the investigation, Cermak noted that "everything costs money these days."
Beeson said the results of Heintzelman's investigation "absolutely" were worth the expense.
"It sent the village completely in the correct direction," Beeson said.
Island Lake's police officers no longer are working as much overtime because of the staffing changes that resulted from the investigation, Beeson said.
Previously, more-costly overtime pay was needed because the two part-time officers weren't doing street work and Dickerson rarely did, Palmer said.
Overtime "will, by and large, be greatly reduced," Palmer said.
Because of that savings, Beeson expects the village will break even on the investigation's cost within 1½ years.