Misconduct or a team player? Naperville cop's firing winds up in federal court
Was a veteran police officer fired this fall for misconduct involving falsified traffic stop information, or for failing to play along with a quota system he believes to be illegal?
That question is now before a federal court.
Former Naperville officer Clayton Plumtree sued the city, Chief Jason Arres and the city's board of fire and police commissioners in U.S. District Court this week, claiming he was unlawfully terminated over the department's traffic stop quota. He seeks reinstatement, lost wages and benefits, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorneys' fees and costs.
Plumtree, who joined the Naperville force in April 2021 after about 13 years as a cop in Oakbrook Terrace, alleges his firing in October violated his rights to due process and equal protection under the law. The suit also argues he was defamed when Arres attended roll call meetings to inform other officers and employees that he fired Plumtree over "integrity issues."
At the center of the dispute is the department's Traffic Stop Expectation Policy, under which all officers are expected to average at least two traffic stops per shift, according to court documents. The policy, the suit claims, has led to five Office of Professional Standards investigations within the department and is a source of discontent among the rank-and-file.
In a written statement to us, the city of Naperville defended Plumtree's dismissal and the policy.
"The police department's expectations concerning traffic stops are based on making citizen contact, not issuing citations, and are in the best interest of the community to reduce crashes and crime," the statement reads. "While on probation, Officer Plumtree was terminated for misconduct, not for failure to make traffic stops. The city is aware of the claims made in the lawsuit and believe they are without merit. The city is prepared to vigorously defend this lawsuit."
The suit states that in April, a sergeant told an officer who was behind on the quota to take credit for some of Plumtree's traffic stops. Plumtree, the suit states, went along with the suggestion, believing he was being a "team player" and acting with his supervisor's permission.
But in early September, Plumtree was ordered to the station before his shift began and told he was under investigation. Six weeks later, Arres fired Plumtree, saying he had violated policies regarding honesty, the suit says. The suit alleges Arres also took steps to prevent him from being hired as a police officer elsewhere.
Plumtree was the only officer fired as a result of the investigation, according to the suit. The officer who "borrowed" his traffic stops was allowed to resign, and the sergeant who suggested it was suspended for 15 days, the suit states.
"Defendants Arres and Naperville ... were deliberately indifferent to a custom, pattern, practice, or policy of forcing its police officers to execute unlawful or unwarranted traffic stops, or otherwise engaged in conduct resulting in the violation of constitutional, statutory, or common law rights of police officers and private citizens," the suit alleges.
One more thing
While the suit repeatedly calls the city's quota policy illegal, state law seems to disagree. Under a measure passed by the General Assembly in 2014, departments cannot require a police officer to issue a specific number of tickets within a certain time frame, and they can't evaluate officers based on the number of tickets they issue compared with their colleagues.
However, the law doesn't ban quotas on "points of contact," which it defines as "the number of traffic stops completed, arrests, written warnings, and crime prevention measures."
Who are those masked jurors?
We've got more than a couple decades of courtroom reporting between us, but once in a while, even we come across something we've never seen.
Such was the case Wednesday, when we checked the latest batch of state appellate court rulings and came across the case of Willie L. Smart. The 46-year-old former Elgin resident, convicted of felony domestic battery and sentenced to five years in prison, argues that his 2020 trial was unconstitutional and he should receive a new one.
Why? Masks. In particular, the masks jurors were required to wear at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Smart's appeal, the masks prevented him and his attorney from seeing potential jurors' facial expressions and reactions during jury selection, making it impossible for them to know whether they got a fair and impartial panel.
"(The defense) lacked reasonable assurance that prejudice in the jury pool would be discovered," they claimed.
The appellate court said Illinois' courts have never addressed the issue. However, federal courts in New York, Georgia and Arizona, and state courts in Pennsylvania and Kentucky have, and they sided against defendants.
The Illinois appellate justices unanimously agreed.
"The trial court, which ... specifically found that 'enough of (the jurors') facial features were available or visible that you could tell what you needed to tell about the jurors as you were selecting them,'" Justice Liam Brennan wrote. "In addition, there are a multitude of ways by which counsel can observe a prospective juror's demeanor without viewing the juror's nose and mouth."
Smart, who was found guilty of striking a romantic partner during an April 2020 argument at an Elgin apartment, recently became eligible for parole, according to state prison records.
A former Oak Brook man has been charged with stealing dozens of identities as part of an identity-theft ring operated out of his home.
Richard D. Tate, 31, was indicted in March on 76 counts of identity theft and three counts of conspiracy to commit aggravated identity theft-victim over age 60.
He evaded arrest until early November, when Matteson police arrested him on unrelated charges of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, forgery and possession of a controlled substance. Tate, who now lives in Chicago, is free on $10,000 bail.
He's accused of stealing credit, debit, savings and checking account numbers from 33 people, as well as some other personal information such as Social Security numbers and, in one case, the maiden name of the victim's mother. In five other cases, he stole birth dates and driver's license numbers, authorities allege.
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