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Crystal Lake City Council member questions policy after 2 firefighters facing criminal charges continue working

CRYSTAL LAKE – One Crystal Lake City Council member is questioning a city policy that allowed two firefighters charged with assault and battery to continue to work for the Crystal Lake Fire Rescue Department while the cases are pending in court.

Council member Ralph Dawson said he found specific details of the incident that resulted in two Crystal Lake firefighters being placed on administrative leave through a previous Northwest Herald article and was disappointed to learn they were allowed to continue working for the department with pending criminal investigations.

“I have misgivings about if they should be able to work, but there hasn’t been a conviction, so it’s very hard to make a total judgment on it,” Dawson said. “My assumption would be if this is a [criminal] charge and administrative leave is there, then they should not work.”

The two firefighters, Adam J. Fowles, 41, of Cary and Timothy R. Kerley, 38, of Crystal Lake, were arrested May 11 in connection with an off-duty incident that occurred March 15, and they were placed on administrative leave without pay as the result of an employment investigation into the matter. However, under terms of their union contract, the firefighters were able to continue to work on non-shift days while on administrative leave.

Fowles was charged with aggravated battery in a public place, and Kerley was charged with aggravated assault and disorderly conduct, according to court documents. Both men have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled to appear in court Thursday.

In court documents, prosecutors allege that Fowles grabbed a woman by the waist and repeatedly thrust his pelvis against her.

Kerley had to be restrained after threatening a man at the bar, according to court documents. Kerley was verbally abusive while being removed from the bar and broke a glass while he was being restrained, according to court documents.

Although the incidents at the center of the cases happened in March, the two firefighters weren’t charged until June. That was in part because of what Crystal Lake Deputy Police Chief Thomas Kotlowski described as a thorough investigation that involved more than 20 hours of video footage and interviews with multiple witnesses.

“The length of the investigation is evidence of the thoroughness of the investigation,” Kotlowski said.

He said the resident complaint that eventually led to Kerley and Fowles being charged was handled in the same manner as any other complaint. He also said that based on his investigation, he didn’t see any evidence that either posed a safety risk to the community.

The Northwest Herald has filed Freedom of Information Act requests for documents and emails related to the arrests of both men and any communication between city employees regarding both men, including investigations into their employment.

Fire Chief Paul DeRaedt said the administrative leave rule prohibits the two firefighters from working their scheduled duty days, which equates to nearly $900 in lost wages for each duty-day shift missed. However, the terms of the leave allow both men to take opportunities for overtime shifts of up to 24 hours that pay 1½ times their regular hourly pay rate of $37.35 an hour.

DeRaedt said reasons for working overtime shifts can include minimum staffing, personnel needed for public education events – such as school tours – and callbacks for off-duty crews to cover the station until on-duty resources can return.

DeRaedt said both firefighters have taken advantage of opportunities to work overtime during their administrative leave, the length of which he would not specify. He also said both firefighters would return to duty before the end of the week.

Despite one of the charges alleging battery against a woman,
DeRaedt said, the city’s employment investigation concluded that there “was not a risk” in allowing them to continue working.

“We used many resources to evaluate [the incident], including legal counsel,” DeRaedt said. “This was an isolated off-duty incident, and our knowledge of the employees and what had taken place was that we were comfortable letting them work.”

City Council members Cameron Hubbard, Ellen Brady and Cathy Ferguson declined to comment. Council members Haig Haleblian and Brett Hopkins did not return calls seeking comment.

“This is a pending matter, and I’m not comfortable talking about this pending matter,” Mayor Aaron Shepley said. “We have, as you know, a collective bargaining agreement with our firefighters, and we’re going to abide by what we have to abide by. As far as any charges, I’m not in a position to comment on that matter.”

Shepley declined to comment further or answer specific questions.

City officials said that all City Council members were informed of the charges and arrests of the firefighters.

The Crystal Lake firefighters labor union contract specifies four primary disciplinary actions that may be taken against a member of the fire department who has violated the rules and regulations of the department: oral and written reprimands, suspension without pay for a period that does not exceed 30 days and discharge.

For administrative leave, the contract does not specify how disciplined members will serve their time. DeRaedt said he examines each instance on a case-by-case basis, taking into account disciplinary actions the city has taken in the past and the history of the employee in question.

DeRaedt also said no further disciplinary action relating to the incident will be taken, but a criminal conviction for one or both members could result in termination if they no longer meet the conditions of their employment. Conditions include holding valid EMT and driver’s licenses.

The Illinois Department of Public Health allows an individual convicted of a felony to hold an EMT license if the department determines he or she meets other requirements and does not present a risk to patients.

“If we were to wait until a criminal conviction is done before we weigh in and evaluate what that may be, that takes away from the time where we’re dealing with the employment action and correct that behavior,” DeRaedt said. “We want to make sure that if there’s a violation of the rules and regulations, that we’re dealing with that as swiftly as we can within the time constraints of conducting a thorough investigation.”

Dawson said he will want a full report on the incident at the next City Council meeting, which will be at 7:30 p.m. July 18 at City Hall, 100 W. Woodstock St.

He expects the council will discuss the situation in executive session. Executive session is held behind closed doors and not open to the public.

“Until I can get together with the rest of the council, I would like to know myself what the others’ feelings are,” Dawson said. “Mine is, if you do that, I think you would not be able to work.”

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