City takes action on cop involved in lawsuit
By Kitty Conley firstname.lastname@example.org February 19, 2013 12:14PM
Updated: February 19, 2013 12:18PM
CROWN POINT — The Board of Public Works and Safety voted Feb. 14 to terminate the employment of police sergeant James Poling.
He was given five days to request a hearing that would reconsider the termination, and later that same day, Poling’s attorney, Christopher Cooper, requested the hearing by e-mail to City Attorney David Nicholls.
Cooper’s law office is on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago. He specializes in civil rights cases in the federal courts as well as police hearings like Poling’s.
At the Feb. 14 board meeting, a letter from Poling was presented to Nicholls by Karen Marben, director of Human Resources for the city. The letter was said to state that Poling had rescinded a retirement request made last year. According to Marben, the letter was dated Feb. 4, and had been hand-delivered to her at her office by Poling on Feb. 5.
Marben said, “He alleged in this letter that in an e-mail his attorney sent to David Nicholls he was not retiring.”
Poling, in his lawsuit, stated that he believes he was forced into signing the request for retirement for political reasons, because he had signed a letter as president of the local Fraternal Order of Police and that was sent to Mayor David Uran objecting to the placing of Randy Palmateer on the Board of Works.
The board accepted Poling’s retirement request at an October 2012 meeting. The retirement would be effective on the 20-year anniversary of Poling’s service in the department, which would have been in April of 2013. At 20 years, he would be eligible for full pension from the state.
According to the agreement, until that time Poling would be on desk duty in the 911 Center at full sergeant’s pay. He would be relieved of his take-home police car since he would not be on the road.
According to Nicholls Poling re-affirmed his intent to retire when he signed up for the city’s Early Separation Incentive to receive a one-time payout of just over $13,000.
Nicholls said, “When I got the e-mailed copies of the lawsuit he filed against the city, I immediately called (Clerk-Treasurer) Patti Olson and advised her to stop payment on that check.”
The problems between Poling and the city began when Poling became the the subject of an internal investigation for violating department procedures related to a pursuit last year.
Chief of Police Pete Land stated that every pursuit is taken to a pursuit review board. “Based on their findings we authorized an investigation,” Land said.
The investigation’s concluding document states in the first paragraph: “This investigation has found that Sergeant James Poling has violated certain Police Department Rules & Regulations, certain provisions within the Police Vehicle Operations and Pursuit Policy, and certain provisions within the City Employee Handbook stemming from his actions during the May 25th, 2012 motor vehicle pursuit.”
Land read out 24 sections and paragraphs from the department’s rules that were allegedly violated, four sections from the pursuit policy and the two items from the city employee handbook.
Nicholls said that the pursuit went from the City of Crown Point into Gary in the middle of the evening, and that Poling drove at speeds over 100 mph.
Nicholls asked Land if he had a recommendation to the board.
Land recommended putting Sgt. Poling on immediate administrative leave with pay pending termination.
Uran asked, “If this is granted what is next?”
Nicholls answered, “He will be escorted from the property and all his equipment will be confiscated. He is given five days from today to request a hearing. It would be held before this Board of Public Works and Safety.”
Before voting, City Councilmen Bob Clemons, R-2nd, a board member, asked if this termination would endanger his retirement pension.
Nicholls simply said, “Yes.”
In the motion to remove Poling there were three yes votes from Clemons, Mike Conquest, and Tim Grzych, and two abstentions from Mayor Uran and Palmateer.
Nicholls then asked the board to approve his hiring of an outside attorney to act as prosecutor for the city in the event of a hearing, with no cap on the total cost to the city.
Conquest made the motion and Grzych seconded it. The three yes votes also included Clemons. Once again Uran and Palmateer abstained.