DECATUR – The city of Decatur and City Manager Tim Gleason filed a motion Thursday to dismiss a lawsuit against them by fired police chief Brad Sweeney, in which Sweeney is seeking reinstatement and punitive damages.
The motion, filed in Macon County Circuit Court, alleges that if Sweeney's allegations are true, that Gleason illegally used a police vehicle to transport him to a St. Louis airport in May, Sweeney was in violation of the law because he did not make an arrest in the case.
“According to the Sweeney story, Sweeney, the top law enforcement official of the city of Decatur, participated in a Class 3 felony, and failed to take action to enforce the Criminal Code against Gleason or himself,” the motion says.
Common sense “weighs against recognizing retaliatory discharge” under these circumstances, in which “a law enforcement official fails to pursue official misconduct reserving said knowledge for his own personal use at a future unknown time and date.”
The city and Gleason are being represented by attorneys Jerold Stocks and Ed Flynn, both partners with a Decatur firm. The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge A.G. Webber IV.
A hearing will be scheduled, at which the judge will hear oral arguments on whether the suit will proceed.
In response to the allegation that Sweeney's termination was a violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act, the defendants' attorneys wrote, “Where an employee has revealed this information only to his or her employer, there is no cause of action in Illinois for retaliatory discharge.”
Sweeney's complaint, filed Feb. 16, alleges Gleason retaliated against Sweeney “because Sweeney disclosed information to Gleason,” when Sweeney believed that was a disclosure of a state law violation.
The 17-page defendant's response, with an additional 16 pages of attachments, answers the allegations set forth in Sweeney's complaint,
The attorneys representing the defendants wrote that the allegation of retaliatory discharge is a “very narrow exception” to the general rule that “at will employees may be terminated for any or no reason.” The city manager has the authority to remove “at will” all department directors as well as police personnel ranked above sergeant.
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Gleason alleges his decision to terminate was not influenced in any way by any circumstance related to his airport trip on May 7, 2015.
“I had no knowledge that Mr. Sweeney ever considered the fact or transportation to St. Louis as objectionable, improper, or not otherwise authorized,” Gleason said.
Sweeney, 43, also alleges his firing was partly retaliation for refusing to support a motor fuel tax at a city council meeting after Gleason asked him to do so. Sweeney said he then spoke against tax increases in a staff meeting.
The defendants responded that “the First Amendment does not protect statements made as part of one's job” and “the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline.”
Gleason said Sweeney's behavior at a staff meeting, which took place two days prior to his Feb. 4 termination, was “inappropriate, rude, disrespectful and insubordinate.”
Gleason listed his reasons for executing the termination, which included:
- That an incident involving Sweeney's wife, which occurred in April 2015, had not been reported to Gleason, which Gleason learned about on Jan. 13. “Sweeney objected to my initiation of the Illinois State Police investigation” of that incident. Sweeney also objected to the fact that Gleason excluded him from participating in that investigation.
- “Mr. Sweeney was not truthful regarding communications he had with a third party regarding his desires related to the communication (dispatch) center and admitted to me, in the presence of a witness, that he was untruthful.”
- The police chief “allowed personal animus” between himself and a landlord's contractor of police headquarters to “negatively influence” the city's relationship with the landlord.
- He failed to follow detailed requirements governing asset forfeiture fund purchases, which Gleason discovered “shortly before terminating” him.
- Sweeney was willing to abuse his position by suggesting he intended to retaliate against an officer for following Sweeney's daughter's Instagram account.
Gleason said that each of these claims was discussed with Sweeney, and that he “acknowledged the truthfulness and accuracy of the reasons for which he was terminated, admitted he had handled matters poorly and apologized for his poor choices.”
Sweeney declined to speak about this motion, based on the advice of his attorney, Jon Robinson.
The Herald & Review has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the Illinois State Police investigation regarding the incident involving Sweeney's wife. Information received thus far indicates that Sweeney was cleared of wrongdoing in that case.
Sweeney was appointed by then-City Manager Ryan McCrady to serve as Decatur's chief of police, beginning Jan. 3, 2015. He began his career on the department as a patrol officer in May 1995, subsequently serving as a master patrol officer, patrol sergeant and lieutenant with the professional standards bureau.
Gleason began his stint as Decatur city manager March 23. He formerly served as city administrator of Washington, Ill.