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Flossmoor files response to former police chief’s federal lawsuit

Attorneys for the Village of Flossmoor, Mayor Michelle Nelson and Village Manager Bridget Wachtel filed a response in federal district court Friday, April 5, to former Police Chief Jerel Jones’ March 11 lawsuit alleging racial discrimination as the motivating factor in his termination.

Jones’ complaint used 10 excerpts from Wachtel’s reviews of his performance at six months and nine months during his first year as Flossmoor’s first Black police chief. The suit alleged that Jones was subject to micromanagement and disparagement because of his race and was held to a higher standard than white department leaders.

The village’s response filed by The Sotos Law Firm answers each of 131 paragraphs in Jones’ suit, denying any racial discrimination and defending the supervisory actions taken by Wachtel and Nelson.

“Defendants fully know that race discrimination is not only illegal but also fundamentally immoral, and state affirmatively that none of the conduct plaintiff (Jones) identifies throughout his complaint had anything at all to do with race,” the filing states in response to paragraph 82 of Jones’ suit.

On March 18, at the village board meeting where trustees voted to fire Jones, the village released copies of a motion to strike nine paragraphs from Jones’ lawsuit, asserting that they were “inappropriate and defamatory” toward Wachtel.

The text of all three filings are available below.

In response to Jones’ claim that he had “suffered job loss, reputational damage, salary and benefits losses, and extreme emotional distress,” the April 5 filing states, “Defendants deny that Wachtel caused plaintiff to be injured, and state affirmatively that his job loss and any related distress were caused by his failure to meet the village’s expectations for him to remain as police chief; and that any reputational damage was caused by plaintiff’s and his counsel’s decision to release and publicize defendant Wachtel’s private criticisms of his performance.”

During the controversy, the one thing residents, Jones and village officials seem to agree on is the need for the full story to be told, including the release of his full performance reviews. Village officials have cited legal limitations that prevent them from releasing those reviews. Jones’ attorney has cited concern about exposing sensitive public safety information as the reason for declining to release them.

The Chronicle filed a FOIA request with the village on Wednesday, March 27, asking for the full reviews. On April 3, the village partially complied with the request providing a job description for the police chief position, but did not include requested information about Jones’ performance as chief.

“The Village of Flossmoor is denying your request for the remaining documents, as they are exempt from disclosure under Section 11 of the Personnel Record Review Act, and under Section 7(q) of the Freedom of Information Act.”

Section 11 specifically forbids releasing employee performance evaluations in response to FOIA requests. 

“Sec. 11. This Act shall not be construed to diminish a right of access to records already otherwise provided by law, provided that disclosure of performance evaluations under the Freedom of Information Act shall be prohibited.”

At a news conference March 11 announcing the suit, Jones’ attorney, Cass Casper, invited the village to release his full performance reviews but said the law firm could not.

“We have invited the village to release the full performance memos to the public in the complaint,” he said. “We cannot release them ourselves because we’re concerned that the village will claim we released safety sensitive information about policing if we were to do that. But we invite them to do it.”

Until Friday, the only documented glimpse into the circumstances leading to Jones’ firing were the performance review excerpts available to the public in his lawsuit. The village’s response provides additional context in its rebuttals to many of Jones’ claims.

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