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Joliet Police Officer Lionel Allens Downfall: Ferak Column

JOLIET, IL – January marked the 30th anniversary of Lionel Allen’s hiring at the Joliet Police Department, but Allen’s days of earning an honest day’s paycheck patroling Joliet’s neighborhoods and putting the bad guys in jail appear over. The new Joliet Police administration, led by Chief Al Roechner, decided it’s time to get rid of Allen, once and for all.

Allen, along with another officer, Brian Nagra, were both notified of their terminations in January for different reasons. Nagra, who typically makes at least $125,000 annually, is accused of falsifying his payroll records last year to beef up his overtime pay.

Both Allen and Nagra have appealed their terminations to the city’s five-member Police and Fire Board, which is appointed by Mayor Bob O’Dekirk.

For now, Allen and Nagra remain on paid leave because the city has not scheduled a hearing on their respective job termination appeals. Last month, I published a story about Nagra previously receiving a 10-workday unpaid suspension in 2015 after being accused of battery while he was off-duty at the Double J Sports Bar on Essington Road.

As for Allen, during the first half of his Joliet Police career he was an ambitious master patrol officer. He was often in the right place at the right time.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, I obtained more than 30 documents from Allen’s police department employment file, plus, as part of my research, I obtained additional public records from the Will County Courthouse.

Here are some of the many examples of exemplary work from Allen’s personnel records:

On Jan. 6, 1991. Allen drew a division recognition for arresting two people after an armed robbery at the Day Nite on West Jefferson Street.

“You were able to initiate a foot pursuit on the subjects until other officers responded to assist. Your quick response and aggressive pursuit of the suspects was instrumental in the ultimate apprehension of one offender which led to the identification of the second offender.”

In 1993, Allen had a major role on Joliet’s Metropolitan Area Narcotics Squad, resulting in drug indictments against 34 people in Joliet, 23 in Bolingbrook and eight from Grundy County.

Officer Allen was able to convince these street sellers he was an individual in want of the narcotics. Several purchases occurred with Officer Allen being utilized … Officer Allen placed himself in potentially dangerous situations. Officer Allen maintained his professional calm and was able to bring the investigation (into the sale of crack cocaine) to a successful conclusion.”

The letter from the MANS director, Lt. Frank Schmitt, ends by declaring: “Officer Allen is a credit to the Joliet Police Department as well as the citizens of Illinois … It was a pleasure working with Officer Allen during this investigation.”

On July 2, 1996, Allen got a commendation for alertness and dedication to duty.

“While you were off duty, you observed suspicious activity in a used car lot on the city’s west side. Upon investigating further, you located a subject in the process of burglarizing a vehicle. You approached the subject and after identifying yourself as a police officer, you arrested the subject … Your quick actions and professionalism led to the apprehension of a subject committing a burglary.”

On July 28, 1998, Joliet detectives were searching for the getaway car in a homicide. Allen delivered in the clutch.

“You aggressively looked for the vehicle and located it. After establishing probable cause, you stopped the vehicle and the driver … was determined to be the subject that the detectives were seeking …. Because of your actions, the vehicle and subject were located in a timely manner and the detectives were aided in their investigation of this homicide. Congratulations on a job well done.”

Aug. 18, 2004: A Joliet Fire battalion chief sent a letter to then-police chief David Gerdes praising Allen for a rescue. The person was sitting on the canal wall across from 311 N. Ottawa St.

“The individual threatened to jump in to kill himself,” battalion chief John Zagar advised. “The officers began by trying to talk him down and realized that it was getting nowhere. They then decided to distract him and in one quick motion Officer (Jeff) Stubler and Officer Allen grabbed the individual. If not for their quick thinking and actions. I believe this situation certainly would have ended negatively. Please commend them on a job well done.”

Unfortunately, the past several years have been a different story for Allen.

The individual recognition citations that were once a constant have been few and far between.

And even though he has received no rank promotions during the past 30 years, Allen has made himself one of the city of Joliet’s top paid employees.

A large portion of Allen’s gross compensation is derived from what’s classified as “specialty assignment pay.” These are coveted extra-duty assignments. The police officers chosen for the assignments get paid extra for providing security at big events such as Taste of Joliet and Chicagoland Speedway’s NASCAR weekend. Other opportunities for special assignment pay usually include several of Joliet’s bars, the Evergreen Terrace public housing units plus events and activities at Bicentennial Park.

In such cases, the outside business or entity reimburses the city for the extra police protection. Therefore, city taxpayers, technically, are not on the hook for footing the tab for Allen’s special assignment pay, which often tops $50,000 annually.

For some Joliet Police, Chicagoland Speedway is a great place to make extra money. File image via Chicagoland Speedway

In 2015, Allen was the fifth highest paid city of Joliet employee, making a total of $175,599, including $53,831 in special assignment pay.

In 2016, Allen was the sixth highest paid city employee making $169,318. Allen’s base salary as a master patrol officer was $102,069. However, Allen made $52,180 in special assignment pay.

In 2017, Allen was the fifth highest paid city employee, making $178,405.

In 2018, Allen was the 20th highest paid employee, making a total of $174,614.

Even though Allen consistently makes more money than the police chief and the deputy chiefs, he has proven to be one of the least dependable officers in Joliet in recent history.

Allen has been reprimanded repeatedly for failing to show up for work on time over the past couple years, his personnel file shows.

On Nov. 14, 2018, “you failed to report for duty at your scheduled time of (6 a.m.) The complaint was found to be sustained,” Chief Roechner wrote Allen. “An administrative review was held on Dec. 19, 2018 where you entered into an agreement to serve a one workday suspension without pay.”

On Aug. 15, 2018, Allen failed to report for duty at his scheduled assignment time of 6 a.m., another letter from Roechner stated. “You waived your right to an administrative hearing and accepted the recommended discipline” of one workday, eight hours, without pay.

Yet another formal complaint was lodged by Deputy Chief Tab Jensen, who retired last July, but the incident date is not listed in the memo. In that incident, Allen failed to report for duty at 6 a.m. However, at 6:25 a.m., Allen contacted Patrol Sgt. Bradley Dubs “informing him that you overslept and had a serious headache and requested sick leave for the shift,” Jensen’s memo explains.

Allen had violated his department’s sick leave use and the department’s code of conduct. For that incident, Jensen informed Allen he was being given a written reprimand.

On Sept. 8, 2015, Allen showed up late for work, drawing an oral reprimand from Jensen.

“You reported for duty 41 minutes late. The complaint was found to be sustained. You were given notice of the decision to give you a written reprimand. An administrative hearing was held on Oct. 6, 2015 and discipline was reduced to an oral reprimand,” Jensen wrote.

There is a more serious incident in Allen’s discipline file, but the Joliet Police Department chose to redact the entire document in its response to my recent FOIA request.

Current Deputy Chief John Perona wrote me back, advising, “the disclosure would interfere with pending or actually/reasonably contemplated law enforcement proceedings … ” In other words, that particular disciplinary measure may be a key component in the city’s attempt to fire Allen.

Last summer, Joliet Patch and other Will County news outlets reported that Allen, who is black, filed a federal lawsuit against the city and then-chief Brian Benton alleging racial discrimination. The lawsuit mentioned that Allen had filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in May 2016.

Then, on June 16, 2016, Chief Benton “recommended that Allen be terminated” as “further race discrimination,” the lawsuit states. However, Benton told Allen he would not be fired if he chose to withdraw his EEOC complaint, “agree not to file any future charges, signed a ‘last chance agreement’ and took a 15-day suspension.

“Allen accepted the discipline to stay employed,” states the federal lawsuit against the city, which is still pending. “Thereafter, he was suspended for 15 days.”

Meanwhile, other public records filed at the Will County Courthouse reflect that Allen has been accused of domestic violence and accused of having issues with alcohol.

A 2012 protection order, which was approved by a Will County judge, accused Allen of violently attacking his wife during a Caribbean vacation. No charges resulted from the incident.

“My husband Lionel and I were on vacation and when we were the leaving the beach, we got in the car and he started accusing me of having a boyfriend in 2010 and telling me, ‘Why don’t you admit it?” Allen’s wife wrote the judge, explaining she was behind the wheel of the car.

“Lionel had been drinking, still with a beer bottle in his hand, he threw the bottle at me, I was trying to get back into the resort where we were staying,” the order of protection states.

Back at the vacation resort, Allen became angry, demanding to know what his wife did with his wallet, court records state.

“He grabbed me, put me down on the floor and started to punch me on my left arm and yelling, ‘There is $1,000 in my wallet.’ I got up and in the same time he pushed me against the corner of where (the) walls meet together. I got a cut by my left eyebrow, three stitches.”

Eventually, the woman called the St. Martin hotel security, court documents reveal.

“They took me to the emergency room. The police came and filed a report but I did not (press) charges. The hotel gave me a separated room (until) we came back home. I stay away from him. I work nights. He works days, police officer … Lionel drinks every day, breaks things around the house and I fear for my safety.”

Two days after obtaining the Will County order of protection, the officer‘s wife filed for divorce. Court records show that Allen’s lawyer at the time was Bob O’Dekirk, who is a former Joliet Police officer, who would later became Joliet’s mayor.

A divorce decree was granted in April 2013.

Now, the Joliet Police Department wants Allen off the force. His dismissal is probably long overdue, but it’s still sad it has to happen. From my perspective, Allen once was a conscientious and hard-nosed police officer, a great asset to the city of Joliet, but that was a long, long, time ago.

A Joliet native and former investigative reporter and editor with USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin, John Ferak is Patch Editor for Joliet, New Lenox and Bolingbrook and Patch coverage for Shorewood and Channahon-Minooka

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