This does not surprise me in the least. I observed this firsthand and it is pathetic.
Disciplinary actions appear lighter for deputies who contributed or helped Zaruba’s campaigns
In 2006, Deputy Tim Connell did something unthinkable to many of his peers: He ran against his boss.
The veteran detective was demoted to road deputy â€” he claimed it was retaliation â€” but he stayed in the race and took a required unpaid leave of absence. He lost and returned for his old patrol job only to discover DuPage County Sheriff John Zaruba had other plans.
A detective who had solved cases ranging from rape to murder, he was ordered to work the overnight shift at the jail guarding inmates. He was also given a special uniform of khakis â€” the only deputy in the office forced to wear it, according to state hearing records.
Critics of Zaruba’s, such as his former campaign volunteer Sheila Dreisilker, said the Connell case is an example of how demotions and discipline in the department can be based more on politics than merit.
“If you just crossed him wrong, he would demote you,” said Dreisilker, who once sat on the commission that rules on serious discipline cases, until the sheriff declined to nominate her for another term.
Zaruba’s supporters, including merit commission Chairman Tony Reyes, say the sheriff has made tough discipline choices bound to upset some but for the good of the public. “The sheriff is a man of integrity,” Reyes added.
The Tribune analyzed four years of data on internal investigations that led to discipline, more than 150 cases. Those employees known to have given to, or worked on, Zaruba’s campaign were slightly more likely to receive verbal reprimands and counseling than those not listed as donors or helpers. And those who gave money or helped campaign were one-fourth as likely to face being fired as nondonors and nonhelpers were.
The sheriff’s office was unwilling to provide details of the incidents, making it impossible to compare their seriousness.
But the perception of favoritism has helped fuel a push by many deputies to unionize and, this summer, aim for their first contract, which would contain job protection clauses, said union attorney Joe Mazzone.
“Those officers there â€” except probably the (favored) ones on the inside â€” are driven to do things more out of fear than out of respect,” said Mazzone, chief counsel for Metropolitan Alliance of Police.
The most explosive allegations come from a former jail deputy, Susan Kuttner. She was fired for wearing her uniform when she went to collect on a debt someone owed her boyfriend.
In a federal discrimination lawsuit, Kuttner alleges that men in Zaruba’s circle have repeatedly gotten slaps on the wrists for much worse offenses than she committed. She named more than 20 current or former employees she accused of on-duty transgressions, including viewing pornography on the job, having sex with a crime victim and skipping emergency calls that would interrupt dinner.
The Tribune was unable to independently verify the allegations.
Not all of those demoted say it was because of politics â€” even if they stopped politically supporting the sheriff.
Daniel Potter was demoted after he stopped contributing to the sheriff’s campaign but said he deserved it because he wasn’t doing his previous job well enough.
“I think in his mind he thought, ‘I’ll give you this job because you want it, but it’s up to you to try to keep it.’ If you got to the point where you couldn’t handle it and provide the right kind of leadership, you were gone,” said Potter, now retired.
Others allege favoritism.
In a 2006 lawsuit, former office chemist Carina Thomas said she was laid off after she refused to stop supporting Connell in his 2006 run. The sheriff said her job was eliminated legitimately, but the county paid Thomas $65,000 to settle the case, she and her lawyer said.
“If you back the other guy, watch out.” Thomas said.
After Connell’s return from the campaign, he spent three years in legal wrangling to get out of jail duty. A state administrative law judge determined Zaruba’s actions were retaliation and ordered that Connell at least be transferred out of the jail.
So the sheriff assigned the former detective to road patrol, where he now typically works from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m.