CRYSTAL LAKE – A Crystal Lake police officer was suspended for what the department’s chief said was failure to follow protocol in an incident involving District 47 Superintendent Donn Mendoza.
Officer Brian Burr, who has been with the department since 1997, was given a three-day, unpaid suspension. Police Chief Dave Linder said Burr did not follow department procedure when he responded to a call involving Mendoza early in the morning of Sept. 9.
According to a police report written more than a week after the incident, police were called to Autumn Drive about 2:30 a.m. Sept. 9 after a neighbor reported a suspicious vehicle parked outside a residence. Burr responded and found Mendoza sitting in the back seat of his Honda Pilot. He was parked seven houses from his home, and Burr said Mendoza smelled of alcohol and appeared to be intoxicated, according to the report.
Burr never gave Mendoza a field sobriety test, Linder said. Mendoza later told the Northwest Herald that he was not intoxicated.
Burr gave Mendoza a ride home and did not, as he should have, search him before allowing Mendoza into the squad car, Linder said.
Once Mendoza was home, Burr returned to Mendoza’s car and drove it home, Linder said. For insurance and liability purposes, that is outside department protocol.
When contacted by the Northwest Herald on Sept. 17, Linder said he was unaware of the incident, but conducted an internal investigation that led to Burr’s three-day suspension.
Burr opted for the department’s educational disciplinary initiative that shaved two days from his leave upon successful completion of the program, Linder said.
“Our officer screwed up, and I’m not happy about it,” Linder said. “His general intent was to do the right thing, but it wasn’t the right thing.”
Burr and Mendoza don’t socialize, Mendoza said, but went to high school together.
Mendoza has not been charged with any wrongdoing nor will he be. On the advice of the city attorney, there is not probable cause to bring charges against Mendoza because there were no field sobriety tests given at the time.
Burr didn’t think there was enough to process a DUI charge that morning because Mendoza’s keys were not in the vehicle’s ignition, Linder said. Police department protocol prohibits Burr from speaking to the media.
Both the report and Mendoza said that he was not in possession of the car’s keys when Burr approached.
“We can’t prove that person drove drunk,” Linder said.
The officer also did not write a police report initially, but did so after the department conducted an internal investigation into the matter. The report was filed Sept. 21 and made available to the Northwest Herald.
The report indicates that Mendoza showed symptoms of being intoxicated, and that Burr could detect an “odor of an alcoholic beverage on him.”
Mendoza said he was not drunk, but was tired. He said he had one alcoholic beverage that evening, about 10 or 10:30 p.m.
“The police generated the report based on what their experience was, so I’m not going to dispute that,” Mendoza said. “What I mean to say is I’m not going to make a judgment on whether that was right or wrong. I have no reason to question the credibility of the officer or the police department. I have admitted to you that I had a drink. It was later in the evening.”
Mendoza said he was driving home alone from South Bend, Ind., where he and a friend attended a Notre Dame football game, which was at 2:30 p.m. He said he was up early that day, drove two-and-half hours both to and from South Bend, and simply was tired.
Upon returning to his neighborhood, Mendoza said he “hit a wall” and was too tired to drive home. He said he pulled over to walk the rest of the way. In the process of gathering his belongings to walk to his nearby home, he said he misplaced his keys, and fell asleep as he was looking for them.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt that way before – literally that exhausted,” Mendoza said.
The subsequent police report indicates that Mendoza appeared “excited and had a hard time standing still.” Burr’s report also states that Mendoza “had a hard time staying focused on me and was looking around aimlessly,” and said Mendoza told the officer he “felt like he should not drive or walk home.”
This was because he was surprised and awakened by Burr, Mendoza said of his behavior.
“Anybody that knows me, knows that I’m just extremely excitable as it is,” he said. “Given the situation, I’ll admit, I was excitable. I had been woken up from a deep sleep after being extremely exhausted. I was startled and embarrassed.”
School board President Jeff Mason said he stands behind Mendoza, saying “it’s not a board matter.” Mendoza’s Honda Pilot is not owned by the district, but he receives a $250 monthly stipend for it.
Mendoza told each board member his version of the events, Mason said. The school board has not seen the police report but has requested a copy.
“If something had involved an arrest or some type of charge or had he been injured in any way, then it would [be] a board concern,” Mason said. “... I’m satisfied based upon Donn’s explanation of the events.”
Mendoza said he understands how the incident might look and said he intends to slow down his hectic schedule.
“I don’t have a police record. I have never been arrested or charged with anything in my entire life, which is precisely why ... this is extremely embarrassing given my role,” he said. “... All I can do from this is learn and grow. I think my issue is that I’m not doing a really good job of balancing my personal and professional responsibilities.”