SYCAMORE – The DeKalb police chief’s lawsuit against a Crystal Lake man, claiming emails he sent to the DeKalb mayor and other city officials were libelous and could have cost him his job, is continuing.
Gene Lowery filed suit in DeKalb County Court in January 2016, seeking damages from Thomas G. Salvi, for libel. Salvi, a doctor of internal medicine and a former Republican candidate for state representative who lives in Crystal Lake, sent emails in 2015 to then-Mayor John Rey and City Manager Anne Marie Gaura, in which he called Lowery “evil” and “a thug,” and urged them to fire him.
In May 2015, Salvi again wrote Rey, saying, “Your chief of police, Gene Lowery, is an evil, despicable man,” in an email sent May 19, 2015. “If you need to know more, contact me. You have to know by now.”
Lowery is seeking $300,000 in damages – $50,000 for the damage done to his reputation, and $250,000 to punish Salvi for “malicious actions,” court records show.
“Actual malice is certainly the gist of this action,” the complaint reads. “Defendant on more than one occasion has intentionally and deliberately attacked the excellent reputation of your plaintiff, with the intent of causing the loss of Eugene Lowery’s employment.”
In a motion to dismiss the suit, filed Feb. 29, 2016, Salvi, represented by Chicago-based lawyer Ryan Jacobson, said he has a right to criticize a public official in writing to another public official, citing the First Amendment and the Illinois Citizen Participation Act.
“Ultimately, the instant case turns on whether Illinois law prevents citizens from expressing their criticisms of a chief of police to another local government official.”
History between Salvi, Lowery
Lowery was deputy police chief in Crystal Lake from March 2010 until he left to become DeKalb’s police chief in May 2012.
Salvi was charged in August 2010 with disorderly conduct after police said that on June 25, 2010, he asked a 27-year-old woman in a parking lot whether he could undress her, and then tailed her, according to news reports. Police said it was similar to two other incidents, in April and May 2010, in which the exact same illicit comment was used, although the women in those cases were unable to identify Salvi as the offender in a photo lineup.
The woman eventually decided not to pursue charges, after speaking with prosecutors at her mother’s Chicago home in August, according to police reports. A grand jury later investigated whether then-McHenry County State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi improperly dismissed the misdemeanor charge. Bianchi’s office dismissed the charge after the alleged victim agreed, in exchange for a letter of apology and and a promise that Salvi would seek counseling. A judge later acquitted Bianchi.
Lowery, represented in the civil case by Wauconda-based Gauthier & Gooch, said in the lawsuit that while he was involved in approving the charges filed, he never had contact with Salvi.
Scathing emails to DeKalb officials
Lowery’s complaint cites five emails as evidence, sent May 16 and Nov. 21, 2013, and May 19, Sept. 21, and Sept. 23, 2015, in court records.
Salvi’s first email was to Mark Biernacki, who was DeKalb’s city manager in May 2013. In the email, Salvi said he was “terrorized” by Lowery and called him an “evil man,” records show.
“If you think he’s done a good job for your city, then God help you and your city,” Salvi wrote, the records show. “I can be of no help to you.”
Records show Biernacki forwarded the email to then-Assistant City Manager Rudy Espiritu.
“I have no plans to respond to this, nor to tell Gene about this,” Biernacki wrote. “ … Maybe keep this for now in the event he contacts us again.”
Records show that on Nov. 21, 2013, Salvi sent an email to Rey in which he called Lowery “a terrible cop, an unethical man and horrible leader.”
The next day, Rey forwarded the email to Lowery, saying, “Gene – I am a very good judge of character and I don’t believe any of this!!”
Records show Salvi wrote Rey on Sept. 23, saying “No response by you will be interpreted by hundreds in Crystal Lake and as ACTIVE vote of no-confidence in Chief Eugene Lowery and an acknowledgment that he has been a DISGRACEFUL leader of your community, records show. The email concluded with, “C’mon, Mayor…..grow a pair!”
Public officials must meet a higher standard of “actual malice” in libel cases, meaning that information is published with the knowledge that it is false, or with reckless disregard for its truth. Lowery said in his complaint that Salvi showed actual malice against him, and that his intent was to get Lowery fired.
In the email to Biernacki, Salvi wrote that Lowery “singularly tried to destroy my professional reputation, my marriage and my family simply because I left a message criticizing the Crystal Lake PD for ticketing hard working citizens who ‘crossed the tracks’ when the alarm went off on their way to work at the train station.”
Salvi’s motion to dismiss also claims that because Rey assured Lowery that he put no stock into his criticisms, no damage was done.
The case is scheduled to be back in court July 2.