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Freeburg village's firing of police officers upheld

Published: Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013 11:13 p.m. CDT

FREEBURG – A southwestern Illinois village was within its rights to fire two police officers who vandalized department property and pulled pranks on their colleagues, a state arbitrator ruled.

Gerard Fowler concluded in a report released last week that the conduct of former Freeburg officers John Blomenkamp and Steve Burrows "was so egregious and so harmful to the prosecution of future cases that the village was well advised to terminate their employment as police officers," the Belleville News-Democrat reported Thursday.

A lawyer for the officers, Bill Berry, had argued that the 4,300-resident St. Clair County village's actions against his clients may have been politically motivated by their union activities.

Blomenkamp and Burrows had sought their jobs back and pay retroactive to their August 2012 firings.

With the police union's blessings, Police Chief Mel Woodruff in 2011 installed video surveillance of the department's multipurpose room, and officials said the cameras later recorded the misconduct by Blomenkamp and Burrows.

The footage allegedly showed Burrows kicking and denting another officer's file cabinet and lockers, Blomenkamp taking documents from other officers' file cabinets and his taking another officer's pair of gloves. It also allegedly showed Burrows opening another officer's mail without permission.

Officials also allege that Burrows and Blomenkamp also were captured on video breaking into the department's evidence locker, damaging the door and lock in the process, because they wanted to watch a video inside that showed a traffic stop in which Burrows saved other officers' lives by pushing them out of the way of a speeding car.

Burrows and Blomenkamp also were accused of vandalism and pranks inside and outside the police department, as well as Burrows submitting false time logs at least three times.

Fowler concluded that Blomenkamp and Burrows lied about the incidents when questioned by sheriff's investigators.

Brendan Kelly, the county's state's attorney, declined to charge the two officers, but told Fowler they no longer could effectively be police officers, insisting that "the public expects professional to be the hallmark of a police department if citizens are to respect and trust the police."

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