Friday, November 21, 2008

"Driving While Black" or "Profiling Caucasians?"

That is what just fired McHenry County Deputy Sheriff Zane Seipler is charging happens in McHenry County in his suit against Sheriff Keith Nygren and various other department employees.

I found the story in the Northwest Herald yesterday and decided to look into it further. If you want to read the whole suit, you can find it here. I have highlighted parts that caught my attention the first time through.

In a wide-ranging federal suit, Seipler, represented by Blake Horwitz, charges a conspiracy to deprive him of his livelihood and his freedom of speech, right to seek redress, not to mention on the job harassment.“During his training for employment with the Sheriff of McHenry County,” the suit says, (Seipler) witnessed what was, in essence, a “Code of Silence.” (He) was told that he was not to speak out against fellow employees of the Sheriff of McHenry County. “

Seipler was a 5-year employee of the Cook County Sheriff's Department before being hired in McHenry County. He got good evaluation reports here until he put the following comments on an internal Climate Assessment Report he filled out at the end of June, 2007:

“Civil rights violations are rampant,”

“Profiling and civil rights violations are prevalent,”and

“Profiling and civil rights violations are accepted practices among a number of deputies.”

And, although he didn't have to sign his name, he did.

Within hours he was in a meeting with defendant Captain Anton Cundiff telling him “he believed fellow Deputies were engaging in racial profiling,” the suit says.

Later that day, he was meeting with defendant Kathleen “Seith, the Equal Employment Opportunity Officer for the Sheriff...and (defendant Sgt. James) Popovits. This meeting was recorded. During this meeting, (Seipler) again voiced his concerns regarding racial profiling.”

Seith was “charged with investigating (Seipler)’s claims of police misconduct.”

Popovits wrote a memo to his superiors in which he wrote that Seipler “had overheard his fellow deputies making comments involving racial slurs.”

Seipler's next evaluation found him mediocre. Written by Popovits, it made “reference was made to the fact that (Speipler) had voiced his concerns about officer misconduct and that the concerns were unfounded.”

Seipler challenged it, resulting in an improved performance evaluation.

During the rebuttal hearing, however, Popovits and defendant Lieutenant John Miller ordered Seipler to reveal the names of “fellow Deputies who had knowledge of Deputies engaged in police misconduct.”

Seipler did so.

In January, certified letters were sent to the deputies on Seipler's list.

Not surprisingly, after that fellow deputies “became hostile,” the suit says.

Seipler starting losing advancement opportunities, even ones for which he was the top ranked candidate.

He went to the State Police and “related his claims of racial-profiling and the subsequent events stated above.”

Supervisors of the SWAT team were informed that Seipler was “untrustworthy.”

The same day defendant William “Lutz informed (Seipler) at his home and in front of his wife and children, that the Sheriff of McHenry County was engaged in an administrative/criminal complaint against (Seipler) regarding a statement he made while off duty on or about January 6, 2008.”

A week later, he was removed from the SWAT team and lost three promotion opportunities and was told “all of his work related actions were under intense scrutiny.”

Shortly after, Seipler “met with a Supervisory Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding his claims of racial profiling and the subsequent events.”

Next, Seipler “was replaced as a training officer for a standard patrol by a Deputy who was not a certified Field Training Officer.”

The suit goes on to say,

“(Lieutenant) Miller told (Seipler) that he is aware that the retaliation against (him) is illegal, but will never state as such in public. Miller then stated that he was aware that racial profiling was happening but did not know how to stop it. Miller further stated that, if (Seipler) ceased talking about the racial profiling concerns, Miller would use his influence in the McHenry County Sheriff’s Department to help Seipler) with his "problems.'”

Then, Seipler “filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding his claims of racial profiling and the subsequent retaliation by Defendants, requesting mediation.”

Miller and Cundiff met with Seipler and Miller asked,

"If I give you something will you drop your lawsuit?”

I won't put the word Seipler said that Cundiff used (but you can find it in the suit posted here if you are really curious).

Next, Seipler got a written reprimand for the January 6th off duty comment.

“On or about July 21, 2008, (Seipler) was placed on administrative leave by the McHenry County Sheriff's Department regarding a traffic stop effectuated by (Speipler). Administrative and criminal investigations have been lodged against (Seipler) regarding this traffic stop. At this time, Cundiff stripped (Seipler) of his badge. Further, (Seipler)’s personal items, including a notebook containing information of a highly personal nature, were seized. Lutz conducted this seizure.”

Seipler then another complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, plus on with the Illinois Department of Human Rights.

The suit continues:

“July 29, 2008, PLAINTIFF was interrogated by MILLER and LUTZ. The subject matter of this interrogation involved a traffic stop where PLAINTIFF issued a violation to a Caucasian individual and used his discretion as a Sheriff’s Deputy to not issue a citation to a Hispanic individual. As of the date of this filing, this investigation is ongoing.

“57. At this time, PLAINTIFF was further informed that the MCHENRY COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT intended to instigate further administrative and/or criminal investigations against PLAINTIFF regarding his previous traffic stops. The unofficial basis for these investigations was that PLAINTIFF was racially profiling Caucasians.”

Seipler was fired last week.

Here's how his suit summarizes his service:

“During his employment with the Sheriff of McHenry County, (Seipler) has received multiple commendations and has been appointed to various duties pursuant to his excellent performance. Specifically, (Seipler) has been a member of the SWAT team, a defensive Tactics Instructor, a Field Training Officer, a Medic First Aid Instructor, and a cultural representative to the Guadalupe, Mexico police department.”

Posted first on McHenry County Blog.

There is more on the suit here.

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