DECATUR – An attorney for former Decatur Police Chief Brad Sweeney will file an amended version of Sweeney's lawsuit against the city of Decatur following a judge's dismissal of the original complaint Tuesday.
Macon County Circuit Judge A.G. Webber IV heard arguments from attorneys for both sides during a hearing on the legal issues related to the case, in which Sweeney alleges his Feb. 4 termination was retaliation by City Manager Tim Gleason.
Before granting the motion for dismissal, Webber made it clear that the hearing was an early stage in the proceedings.
“If there was any idea that this was the day this case would be decided one way or another, that is not what is happening here,” he said.
Sweeney attended with his attorney, Jon D. Robinson. Gleason sat between Ed Flynn and Jerry Stocks, the attorneys representing him and the city.
Attorneys for both sides declined to comment after the hearing. But Robinson told the judge he would file another complaint within 14 days, and Flynn and Stocks said they could file a response in 14 days after that.
In his comments to the attorneys, Webber offered some thoughts about how they should structure their arguments going forward.
He told Robinson he was “skeptical” about continuing to pursue a claim against Gleason, citing other cases in which the employer was liable before the court, rather than the individual.
Much of the discussion during the hearing concerned an incident May 7 in which Gleason used a police vehicle and driver to make it to the St. Louis airport in time for a personal trip. Gleason had rearranged his travel plans to attend the Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce State of the City breakfast.
Sweeney has said in affidavits that he objected to the use of the police vehicle and driver at the time, and later reiterated to Gleason that it was improper and would not happen again. One part of his lawsuit alleges that he was fired in retaliation for reporting the act to Gleason, a violation of the Illinois Whistleblower Act.
Webber seemed to question that argument, citing another case in which the court held that someone must refuse to commit the improper action in order to receive protection as a whistleblower.
Robinson conceded that Sweeney participated in Gleason's taking the police car, but only under duress. “In the circumstance and situation that Chief Sweeney was in, he allowed it to happen because he didn't have a choice,” he said.
But Webber said Sweeney did have the choice to refuse.
“I suppose his choice would have been to have refused and being fired on the spot,” Robinson replied.
“Isn't that what the act is all about, then? Protection from retaliation like that?” Webber said.
At multiple points during the hearing, Webber reminded the attorneys that the case was not being tried Tuesday.
“I'm hearing a lot of closing arguments from counselors on both sides, and I don't see a jury in the box yet,” he said.
“Well, there's some people who look like they could be, Judge,” Robinson said, apparently referring to reporters from several media outlets who were seated there.
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 with the department in May 1995.
Gleason began his job as city manager March 23. He previously served as city administrator of Washington, Ill.