Mount Prospect disciplines three police officers for misconduct in escape investigation
A Mount Prospect police commander and two other officers were suspended and reassigned for creating an unofficial subpoena document during an investigation into a detainee's escape from Northwest Community Hospital.
Police Chief John Koziol said Cmdr. Edward Szmergalski and investigators Bartek Giera and Eric Knippel were moved from the department's investigations division to the patrol unit as a result of an internal inquiry. Giera and Knippel requested the move, Koziol said.
Szmergalski also was suspended for 10 days, and Giera and Knippel each received 4-day suspensions, village documents state.
According to those documents, Giera and Knippel were assigned to investigate the Nov, 18 escape of a man in police custody while in the Arlington Heights hospital.
Police reports indicate the man, Lucas Dahm, 25, of Palatine, was arrested Nov. 17 on a burglary charge stemming from a vehicle break-in outside a Mount Prospect pharmacy in October. He was later taken to the hospital for treatment of a medical issue, reports state, but escaped in the early morning hours of Nov. 18. Police recaptured him a short time later as he fled on foot about a half-mile from the hospital.
To aid in their case against Dahm, the investigators requested hospital surveillance video of the escape, village documents state. The hospital, however, said it would require a subpoena if the footage showed other patients, officials said.
According to Koziol's written findings, the investigators were concerned about how long it would take to obtain a subpoena through the courts, so they instead created a document with the word "subpoena" at the top and gave it to a hospital representative. The document did not contain the signature of a judge, attorney or clerk. according to Koziol's account.
Northwest Community eventually agreed to release the video without a court order or subpoena, but the hospital representative informed Deputy Police Chief Michael Eterno about the document that was "clearly (on its face) not a court subpoena," Koziol wrote.
According to Koziol, Szmergalski did not order the investigators to create the phony subpoena, but he acquiesced to their conduct and, in doing so, brought discredit on himself and the department.
"It's unacceptable, but at the same time, I get it," Village Manager Michael Cassady said of the investigators' actions. "Their hearts were in the right place. They were trying to keep a person off the streets who was clearly unhealthy and infecting others around him. They were thinking about trying to eliminate a safety hazard from our community."
Asked whether more severe penalties should have been issued, Cassady replied, "These are all-star police officers."
In his written findings, Koziol noted several mitigating factors in the officers' favor, including their remorse, their outstanding records prior to these events and their belief that it would have taken as many as six months to obtain a court-ordered subpoena because of pandemic-related delays in the judicial system.