UPDATE (8/20/14): A judge rules against the Rockford Police Chief in jurisdiction case.
Judge Eugene Doherty ruled Wednesday that the Board of Police and Fire Commissioners does indeed have the authority to hire, fire, and discipline the Police Chief. Epperson's lawyer, Thomas McGuire, claimed only Mayor Larry Morrissey had the authority to make decisions regarding Epperson. Today's ruling is the second time a judge ruled in favor of the Police Union in this case. A judge initially ruled the commissioners could discipline Epperson. But, since both sides rushed their arguments, combined with the fact the judge himself wasn't sure, led to a second chance for Epperson.
Eyewitness News has obtained the Memorandum Opinion and Order filed by the clerk of the Circuit Court. Some highlights include: Circuit Judge Eugene Doherty's opinion, saying Police Chief Chet Epperson is accountable to the Fire and Police Commission, which contains several key statements which indicating that Chief Epperson "is living in a fantasy world" if he (and the mayor) believe he is accountable only to Mayor Larry Morrissey. The ruling states that not only is Epperson accountable to Fire and Police Commission, but that he is solely accountable to them when it comes to his employment.
Page four of the document sites that ONLY the fire and police commission can fire the chief, and not the mayor: "Statue gives the Board of Commissioners the sole authority to discharge the chief. .. it must also be recognized that placing such authority with the Board of Commissioners insulates police chiefs from hiring and firing decisions which would otherwise be made by the political branches of municipal government..... discharge of the police chief -- is something which the Board, and only the Board, has the power to decide."
Both the Commission and Epperson's law teams gave their final arguments in court this afternoon over who has jurisdiction over the Chief. The Commission says they appointed Epperson and can discipline him unless an ordinance says otherwise.
Epperson's lawyer countered that only the Mayor has jurisdiction over the Chief, because he is covered under an ordinance that designates him has a 'Marshal.'
"There's been an ordinance enacted that says the Chief of Police is a Marshal, and that's an appointment strictly made by the Mayor, according to the municipal code," Thomas McQuire argued.
An attorney for the police union, which is seeking to have its complaint against the Chief heard by the Fire and Police Commission, laughed off the claim. "He's the Chief of Police," says attorney Dan McGrail. "I have no idea what he was talking about when he was referring to some antiquated statute about marshals."
The union claims the Chief violated protocol when he ordered two officers to leave the scene of a welfare-check call at the home of the Rockford NAACP President. Epperson's claim is that he told the officers to wait for a supervisor and not leave the scene.
If the judge dismisses Epperson's motion, then the complaint against the Chief will be heard on Monday. His written ruling is expected Friday.
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