Last week, attorneys for the village of Oak Park told a federal judge four of five charges lodged by police officer Rasul Freelain against a former sergeant and top police department administrators should be dismissed because Freelain had failed to produce any factual basis for his claims.
But on Thursday morning, Freelain’s attorney alleged that former Sgt. Dina Vardal, Police Chief Rick Tanksley and Deputy Chief Anthony Ambrose lied during their recent court depositions.
Vardal resigned from the police department in late August, just days after a news article noted she was entering her 10th month of paid leave due to an unrelated investigation.
Freelain’s 2013 lawsuit accuses her of sexual harassment, battery and retaliation, and the village of violating his civil rights under the federal Family Medical Leave Act.
In a 15-page motion accompanied by 30 exhibits comprising more than 500 pages, the village’s defense attorneys argued that Freelain failed to prove any violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and that he has presented “no genuine issues of material fact.”
“Freelain didn’t lose his position,” the village’s motion stated. “He didn’t suffer lost wages. He didn’t lose any benefits. He wasn’t demoted. He wasn’t disciplined. He wasn’t denied a promotion. Nothing he cites constitutes an adverse action capable of creating a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to defeat summary judgment on his disability discrimination claim.”
But in an 11-page motion filed late Wednesday night, Freelain’s attorney, Robert Robertson, accused Tanksley, Ambrose and Vardal of lying about the duration of a suspension Vardal received for her actions in a May, 2012 incident involving Freelain.
Robertson also produced sworn testimony he says indicates the village produced fake documentation in support of those false statements.
Oak Park Police Sgt. Thomas Dransoff, who heads the department’s Sergeant’s Association, testified in a Sept. 9 deposition that he has seen a document in Vardal’s personnel file that shows she received a one-day suspension, not the three-day, 24 working hour suspension Tanksley, Ambrose and Vardal testified she received.
Dransoff said he also reviewed Vardal’s pay records and that they show she was only docked for one day’s pay, not three.
Citing an “institutional level of deception,” Robertson urged the judge to question the integrity of the village’s response and asked U.S. District Court Judge Manish Shah to impose sanctions.
“The production and consistent misrepresentations under oath regarding these official documents by high-ranking supervisors of the OPPD call into question the accuracy of the official records,” Robertson wrote. “The institutional level of deception involving official documents produced by [the] defendants undermines the validity of all other ‘official’ documents produced by [the] defendants.”
Robertson asked the judge to order the village to produce all of the documents Dransoff described in his deposition, and “to be allowed to independently inspect, copy and photograph all documents, document storage, and to forensically examine the computer equipment and hard drives regarding any and all documents related to defendant Vardal and plaintiff Freelain, including pay records, disciplinary records, and time records.”
Rachel Lutner, one of the village’s defense attorneys, called Robertson’s motion for sanctions “premature,” arguing that his motion “doesn’t cite any particular federal rule,” and saying that Robertson was obligated to communicate his concerns to the village and try to resolve any issues prior to filing a motion. She asked that the motion be stricken.
The judge denied her request, saying the issue Dransoff brought to light “had clearly been percolating.”
Shah agreed that it was “probably something people should have been meeting on,” in an attempt to explain, he said. “whether there’s a there there or not.”
Shah gave the village’s attorneys two weeks to respond in writing to Robertson’s accusations, and scheduled an Oct. 29 status hearing, at which time he said, he is likely to hear arguments on the village’s summary judgment motion and likely make a ruling.
Lutner didn’t wait to sum up her opinion of Robertson’s motion for sanction, saying outside the courtroom, “The motion is stupid. The village has turned over all the documents they sought.”
Asked about the possibility that there are other documents contradicting those turned over to Freelain, Lutner said, “I haven’t talked to the client, but I’m sure from my knowledge of them there are not.”
Robertson said Lutner’s response was not surprising.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise me that an attorney for the Village of Oak Park would dismissively characterize a motion alleging fraud and willful lying under oath by their top law enforcement officers as ‘stupid,'” he said. “The claim that everything that has been asked for [in discovery] has been provided is completely false.”
Robertson said Dransoff was deposed at Oak Park village hall on Sept. 9, and that upon hearing of the alleged contradictory suspension document, he immediately asked Oak Park’s attorney, Stephen Miller, for a copy from police department files.
“As I set forth in my motion,” I specifically asked [Miller] for a copy of the document while sitting in the Oak Park police station, when that document was just feet away and readily accessible,” Robertson said. “Yet for no apparent reason they refused to produce that document at that time.”