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City officials say firing Sgt. Jeffrey Weese could be 'impossible' due to police union contract

DeKALB – DeKalb city officials said DeKalb Police Sgt. Jeffrey Weese can’t be fired for violating the department’s code of conduct by using a chokehold during an arrest, citing past discipline and the police union contract.

At the end of the City Council meeting Monday, Ward 1 Alderman Carolyn Morris addressed ongoing demands by the local Black Lives Matter chapter and community activists calling for police reform, including repeated calls to fire Weese after an incident last August during which he was seen on video arresting Elonte McDowell, of Aurora, using what a police forensic doctor later described as a chokehold. McDowell was rendered unconscious during the arrest, which began as a traffic stop after police received a tip that McDowell was headed to DeKalb to sell marijuana.

“We have issues with one officer that we really need an answer from the city on, and I don’t know what’s going on with that and why that hasn’t been addressed,” Morris said.

City Manager Bill Nicklas said Weese already has gone through the disciplinary process.

The arrest gained national attention as McDowell yelled, “I can’t breathe.” Weese was placed on desk duty pending an investigation by the Illinois State Police, which later included a DeKalb County grand jury who declined to press criminal charges against Weese. In February, after an internal investigation by the DeKalb police department, Weese was placed on unpaid suspension for up to 30 days, ordered to undergo cultural competency training and prohibited from being promoted for a year.

Nicklas said his training – which if completed allowed him to shorten his suspension to 25 days – has not yet been finished.

“Former interim Police Chief [John] Petragallo reached an agreement with our legal counsel and legal counsel for the officer,” Nicklas said to Morris. “There was a provision that there also had to be a mandatory training. Because of COVID, some of that has been accomplished and some of that still remains to be done. It has to be satisfactorily done.”

Nicklas said the discipline requirements are being monitored by acting Police Chief Bob Redel.

“As I understand it we’re week to week to know whether we can complete that training by the same trainer or whether we do something else, but that has not gone away,” he said. “It’s not being tracked be acting Chief Redel who’s very much in agreement of what the agreement was back in February. So nothing hidden here, but it’s good to ask.”

The council on Monday discussed pending and approved changes in the department, including a restructuring and use of force policy revisions. Morris proposed council hold a strategic planning session within four weeks to begin deliberating on a plan of action to demands not yet met.

She also asked if there was any avenue for firing Weese in the city code, since new policy revisions include the city declaring it no longer will hire officers with excessive use of force disciplines on their record, which Weese now has.

“If we were to choose to say, ‘OK, we won’t have police with this sort of record’ and moving forward charge our parameters of who we keep on the force, then could he be let go?” Morris said.

City Attorney John Donahue said the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 115 union contract wouldn’t make that process easy, but Weese’s record of misconduct could weigh against him if any future violations were to occur, he said.

“He’s already been disciplined for that conduct,” Donahue said. “Could you go back in time and fire [him] through those instances? You would have to go through a union contract, and that would be very difficult if not impossible.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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