First posted 9/4/2008 4:40 p.m.
The River Forest Board of Fire and Police Commissioners unanimously upheld the three-day suspension of 26-year veteran Lt. Craig Rutz following a six-hour hearing in village hall last Wednesday afternoon.
Police Chief Nicholas Weiss ordered Rutz suspended three days without pay on June 30, following an internal investigation by the department's two deputy chiefs, Kendra Sullivan and Dan Dhooghe.
That investigation found that Rutz, who had no previous suspensions on his record, had exercised "poor judgment" in relation to a May 14 retail theft investigation and his subsequent interactions with the store owner and the thief. At issue was whether or not Rutz violated departmental policy when he allegedly failed, in his role as a police officer, to dissuade a cigar store owner from pressuring an admitted retail thief to pay the $1,800 cost of a video surveillance system, rather than compensating the $100 worth of stolen merchandise, in order to avoid a criminal complaint.
Weiss had originally authorized subordinates to contact the Special Prosecutions Office of the Cook County State's Attorney regarding possible criminal charges, but opted for internal discipline after the state's attorney declined to get involved.
Instead, Weiss ordered Rutz suspended for failing "to follow established procedures and use sound judgment in carrying out" his duties, and not obeying verbal and written department orders or directives.
On July 26, Rutz filed an appeal.
He denied knowing that the store owner was demanding $1,800 rather than the $100 cost of the stolen merchandise. He acknowledged in cross-examination that his actions could have been interpreted as an attempt to influence the thief to cooperate with the owner, but insisted that he was only trying to broker appropriate restitution for stolen merchandise, and had no intention of using his position to sway either the owner of alleged thief.
"It could be construed as that, but it wasn't my intent," Rutz told Sullivan and Dhooghe in a May 28 interrogation. Rutz also noted that he gave the thief Detective James Greenwood's business card and instructed him to contact Greenwood, since [Rutz] was rotating to midnights soon after.
Rutz's attorney also elicited testimony from two veteran officers who stated that working out restitution agreements between victims and offenders rather than filing criminal charges was a not uncommon practice.
In the end, the board sided with Weiss.
"The board has concluded that the appellate has failed to meet his burden to establish that the suspension as imposed was unwarranted," said Chairman Robert Coleman, noting the commission also held a suspension of three days was warranted.
"My feeling is I think the board thought we acted appropriately," Weiss said afterwards.
Thursday, in response to what he termed rumors regarding the reason for suspending Rutz, Weiss sent out a department wide e-mail clarifying his position.
"I have learned there is a rumor circulating that a police officer was suspended for attempting to arrange for restitution in a retail theft case. This is not true," Weiss wrote. Alleging that Rutz had knowledge the store owner was attempting to get the thief to reimburse him $1,800 for the purchase of a video surveillance system, rather than the $100 amount listed on the criminal incident report form-which Weiss and others had contended was extortion-he concluded, "The officer was suspended for being aware of the victim's demands and not doing anything about it."
On advice of his attorney, Rutz said he had no comment on the board's decision. His attorney, Heidi B. Parker, also declined comment.