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Local

Sycamore police broke off DUI investigation of Elgin officer

Police chief on leave as city officials investigate why cop was arrested but not charged

SYCAMORE – Police Chief Glenn Theriault has been on administrative leave since April 10 as the city investigates why an Elgin police officer arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence was released without charges.

Records obtained by the Daily Chronicle through the Freedom of Information Act show a Sycamore officer was building a driving under the influence case against Elgin Police Sgt. Mark Whaley after an early morning traffic stop Saturday, April 8. Whaley, who has been a police officer for almost 23 years, was handcuffed and driven to the police station, where he was processed. Theriault, who worked with Whaley on the Elgin police force, also went to the police station that night.

Whaley later was released without even a traffic ticket because of lack of evidence, according to the police report.

The report shows Whaley, 46, declined field sobriety tests and declined to provide a breath sample at the Sycamore police station. It does not say whether Whaley was issued a DUI ticket or read the “warning to motorist” that could have triggered a suspension of his license for a year for refusing chemical testing under Illinois law.

Cellphone records show Theriault had three early morning phone conversations with an Elgin police commander and later helped to ensure that a $500 administrative towing fee was waived for Whaley, bypassing a hearing process prescribed by city code.

“Tough position for you and all last night,” read a text sent by Theriault hours later to the arresting officer, Luke Kampmeier. “I’m thinking of the rock-and-glass houses story.”

“A valuable experience for me, albeit unpleasant,” Kampmeier replied. “Tonight we will stick to parking tickets.”

City officials and Theriault have not commented, although in an email to his boss, the city manager, Theriault said he is confident “the outcome will be exonerated” in the case.
Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda said his department had no role in the decision to release Whaley early that morning.

“We were notified he was arrested for the DUI, but now we are told he’s not, he wasn’t arrested and no ticket,” Swoboda said. “So now we’re still looking and seeing what that means as well.”

Early morning stop

The episode began around 1:40 a.m. Saturday, April 8. In his report, Kampmeier – who joined the force out of college in 2014 – wrote that he stopped a silver 2005 Ford F-150 pickup on Somonauk Street near High Street after he saw the driver almost cause a traffic crash at the intersection of State and California streets. Reasons given for the stop were noted as "fail to signal, overtake on right, no front license plate."

In his report, Kampmeier wrote that the driver, Whaley, smelled strongly of alcohol. His speech was “thick-tongued,” his eyes glassy and bloodshot, his movements “slow and deliberate.”

Whaley told Kampmeier he had recently dropped off his wife and child downtown, then changed his story to say he was in the area for training and had one beer in Sycamore before driving, according to Kampmeier's report. A 2011 story by the Daily Herald about Whaley saving a boy's life with CPR said he lived near DeKalb at the time.

After Whaley refused field sobriety tests, Kampmeier arrested him on suspicion of DUI, records show.

A second officer, Blake Powers, a 2016 police academy graduate, searched Whaley’s vehicle and found an unopened bottle of Miller Lite near the passenger seat, according to police reports. Powers stayed on the scene as Whaley’s truck was towed, records show.

“During the investigation, I learned Whaley was employed by the City of Elgin,” Kampmeier wrote. “I also learned the truck was registered to the City of Elgin.”

Swoboda confirmed the truck is an Elgin police vehicle. 

No sergeant was on duty in Sycamore early that morning. Kampmeier contacted the officer in charge, who notified Cmdr. Mike Anderson, who contacted Theriault, phone records show.

In a text message exchange that apparently was with Anderson, Theriault asked the commander to go to the station. Anderson said he would update the chief if something went wrong.

“I’ll go in as well, just don’t want them feeling unduly pressured by the former EPD guy/chief,” Theriault told him by text. Theriault worked for Elgin Police for 20 years, rising to the rank of commander, before joining the Sycamore force as chief in January 2015.

Swoboda said Whaley has been on the Elgin force about 15 years, and that he and Theriault would have worked closely together during the time they were both in Elgin. He did not know if Theriault had ever been Whaley's direct supervisor. 

Anderson and Theriault had a four-minute phone call at 2:19 a.m., according to phone records. At 3:24 a.m., Theriault called Elgin Police Cmdr. Colin Fleury, who supervises investigations. They talked for 10 minutes, then had two minute-long conversations not long after.

The report shows the investigation changed course after Kampmeier brought Whaley to the police station and processed him.

“Whaley refused to provide a breath sample,” Kampmeier wrote in the report. “ … Based on my observations and lack of evidence, I released Whaley without charges. City of Elgin administrators were notified regarding the incident.

“Case closed.”

In a memo from Deputy Chief Jim Winters on April 12, police were asked to preserve any dashcam video of the incident, as well as video from inside the police station and other records. Sycamore officials did not release any video to the Daily Chronicle, citing their internal investigation.

No arrest, no fee

Around noon April 8, Theriault received a text message, again apparently from Anderson, telling him Whaley had come to the police station to pay the administrative towing fee for the Elgin police vehicle.

“Are we waiving?” the text asked. “And how do we document that?”

“No arrest so no admin fee,” Theriault replied. “Just pays Accurate for tow. [Kampmeier] said he was calling Accurate to advise. Not sure if he did.”

The towing company was called and told to waive the administrative fee, according to a follow-up message.

The city’s ordinance regarding administrative towing, which was passed with Theriault’s backing in April 2016, says that in order to have an administrative fee waived, the vehicle’s owner must request a hearing “within 12 hours of the seizure.”

If a hearing is requested, the city is required to schedule one “within 24 hours, excluding Sundays and holidays.”

Sycamore police routinely have people's vehicles towed and held based merely on the standard of "probable cause" to believe they were used in a crime including DUI. Vehicles are not released unless the $500 fee is paid, plus towing costs. The code does not address situations in which a vehicle is towed and a person is later released without charges.

Fallout

Word about the decision to release Whaley spread through the Sycamore police ranks quickly.

“Heads up, apparently dayshift got the rumor mill fired up,” Kampmeier texted Theriault on the afternoon of April 8. “I have already gotten a phone call and a few messages about last night. I made it clear that it was my decision.”

City officials denied a request for any records showing complaints by members of the public, Sycamore police officers or their union about Theriault, citing their ongoing internal investigation. But on Monday, April 10, City Manager Brian Gregory notified Theriault that he was being placed on paid leave.

Early on Tuesday, April 11, Theriault sent a message to Gregory, and offered to come in for an interview.

“Still in dismay,” Theriault wrote before 8 a.m. “… Just want to offer a few thoughts, particularly as it relates to what happens after this given I am extremely confident the outcome will be exonerated.”

Gregory’s response came later that day: a more detailed letter notifying Theriault he had been placed on paid administrative leave. Theriault has been temporarily stripped of police powers and was required to turn in department-issued equipment; he is barred from city property or having contact with any city employees, according to the notice from Gregory. Gregory has declined to comment on the matter because it is a personnel issue.

The city has hired Lansing-based REM Management Services to investigate the incident, records show. The management consulting firm includes two veteran law enforcement officers who are former police chiefs.

After the first story about Theriault’s leave was published in the Daily Chronicle, Anderson sent a note to several officers.

“Continue to dot the I’s, cross the T’s while lining up the X’s versus O’s as we march ahead,” Anderson wrote on April 26. “This matter will soon pass and as the old guy in the division I have been through matters like this in the past.”

Theriault's future with the department is yet to be determined. City officials have said the internal investigation is ongoing; a City Council meeting scheduled for Monday includes a closed session on personnel matters, but the city has not said if Theriault will be a topic of discussion.

• Note to readers: An earlier version of this story said Theriault had been on leave since April 11. Sycamore officials provided more documents after its publication showing Theriault had been put on leave the day before. 

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