LaSalle Co. (ECWd) -
In what is now looking more and more like a cover-up, just as we eluded to in this article, we have new evidence that points to Chief Uranich violating his own policy. As we continue to dig deeper into this matter we now are starting to see what appears to be an intentional suppression of the incident. Was this matter suppressed because of a recent murder trial in which Strand was a key witness in? It is now clear the defense was not provided this information and looking at the statement from LaSalle County State's Attorney Brian Towne in this article, Towne may well have some issues as well.
"allegations amounted to little and have no bearing on the French case."
Most criminal defense attorneys would have an issue with such a statement, especially in a murder trial in which the key witness was a police officer that was under criminal investigation. It is not Towne's place to determine if that matter had any bearing on the French case. It is a jury's job to make such a determination and withholding such information may well be a Brady violation because it could have been used to impeach a state witness, or otherwise cast doubt on the prosecution case. For example, a claim was made in a complaint on Strand that he refused to cooperate in the criminal investigation of his actions by refusing to turn over his personal cell phone. A great line of questioning could have been laid out with all the evidence we have. Impeachment evidence must be turned over even if has nothing to do with the defendant’s innocence. More on this in a dedicated article on Towne's failures as a State's Attorney.
As it relates to Chief Uranich of LaSalle Police Department, it is clear they did not want this information public and even clearer he did not want us to have all the information. For example, I asked for a “Copy of completed investigation files pertaining to any investigation performed by the LaSalle Police Department regarding Sgt. James Strand in the last 5 years." As I reported, the response was most telling and consistent with a pattern of cover-up we have seen with many other public bodies. (Read the details towards the bottom of this article)
An additional FOIA has now produced the smoking gun, the complaint that led to the discipline of a Police Sgt Shift Supervisor, but again, this whole story is falling apart. Why did Strand roll over on this matter instead of fighting for compliance with policy?
According to policy:
"Citizen complaints against members or employees of the LaSalle Police Department shall be recorded (this requires a citizen who files a complaint against a sworn peace officer to support the complaint with a sworn affidavit, i.e. a written statement) and may be investigated by the supervisor in charge, as soon as possible in accordance with the following directions. When the investigation cannot be completed on the date it is received, a preliminary report will be prepared by the supervisor in charge outlining the complaint and his or her actions and delivered to the Chief of Police, via chain of command. Cases involving a supervisor, shall be investigated by the next senior supervisor."
So based on policy, a sworn affidavit is required, yet in this case the only complaint provided from our request was an anonymous letter to the mayor which is not a sworn affidavit. That being the case, what was the justification for an investigation in the first place. They can't claim it was the ISP report as the discipline was issued before that was completed. The Chief took steps to investigate, which we agree should have happened, sworn statement or not, however the incompetance in this investigation and actions taken should raise serious concerns for the citizens of LaSalle County.
One of the policy violations was Unauthorized Prohibited Association. Wait a minute! Strand claimed his actions were in his capacity as a police officer performing police duties and was even cited for Unauthorized Police Actions. What is NOT disclosed in any of this information is who he was associating with and they took the position that he was performing police business, which is outlined in the definition of Unauthorized Association" in the Policy Manual.
"Frequenting or associating with persons, organizations, or places with bad reputation, unless necessary for police business, where such associating or frequenting would be detrimental to the image of the Department or the City of LaSalle."
Why would Sgt. Strand accept this charge when in fact they are all claiming he was on police business? Better yet, why would he accept ANY discipline when there was no sworn affidavit-complaint filed with the department?
He was disciplined for "Unauthorized Persons in Police Vehicle" yet that fails the smell test as well if we are to believe he was conducting police business. The policy defines such a violation as follows:
"Allowing unauthorized persons to ride in police vehicles. Unauthorized persons are those who are not police personnel, prisoners or on official, (authorized), police business. A superior must approve any other persons."
According to the claims in the reports the woman was being talked to as a means of establishing an informant relationship, thus that would be official police business and not a violation. Giving a ride to a potential informant would constitute police business. Why was he disciplined for that if his statement is true? Who was in the vehicle and what were they doing?
He was disciplined for "Leaving the City of LaSalle". Again, such a charge does not fit according to policy.
"Going beyond the City of LaSalle corporate limits while on duty, unless in the performance of actual police duty, or upon the direct order of a superior."
Sgt. Strand claimed he was in the performance of actual police duty, although unauthorized, it was police duty according to him. If that it to be believed, why was he charged with that policy violation?
He was disciplined for "Uanauthorized Personal Use of Cell Phone". Once again, that charge does not fit according to policy if Sgt. Strands claim is true.
"Employees shall not make regular use of cell phones for personal business while engaged in the performance of their duties. While employees may engage in infrequent and brief use, it shall always be done in a manner that will not interfere in the performance of their duties. Employees driving Department vehicles will not engage in personal cell phone calls while operating the vehicle. Employees using cell phones for official business will always do so in a safe manner."
Considering Sgt. Strand claimed he was engaged in the performance of his duties, why was he charged with this violation of policy? There does not appear to be anything in the investigation files pointing to personal use of the cell phone, coupled with the fact he stated he was performing unauthorized police action, what evidence is there he used the phone for personal use?
He was disciplined for Unauthorized Personal Business, which again, fails the smell test as there is zero evidence to support that charge.
"Consistently receiving personal mail, visitors, telephone calls or utilization of departmental telecommunications equipment for non-duty related purposes."
Sgt. Strand claimed, and the reports supported, his actions were in the performance of his duties as a police officer. He was rightly cited for Unauthorized Police Actions but nothing has been found to support he was performing unauthorized personal business, other than his own admission, which raises more questions.
Lastly, the Inappropriate Conduct.
"Engaging in conduct, on or off duty, which adversely affects the morale of the Department, or in the alternative, engaging ion conduct, on or off duty, which has a tendency to destroy public respect for the employee and/or the Department and/or destroy confidence in the operation of the City of LaSalle service."
According to the investigation record, Sgt. Strand was performing unauthorized police actions, but other than that, the other policy violations don't hold water, based on the record provided and the policy manual definitions, unless someone is lying and suppressing records and information. We suspect both.
The more we read the more questions get raised. One thing is clear, the pattern in this entire chain of events is inconsistent and full of holes. That points to a cover-up and in light of Officer Strand being a key witness in a murder trial there are a lot of questions we supsect will have to be answered under oath in upcoming depositions or court precedings.
We may never know until one day in court what the real facts are behind Sgt. Strand's admissions to policy violations. If he is to be believed, that he was performing a police action, then the additional violations don't hold water. We suspect our tipster and the reports in hand were spot on. Everything points to an officer getting caught doing things that were not legal and it was covered up becuase of that officer playing a key role in a murder trial. Such information getting out during that trial could be very problematic for the prosecution. We suspect this will now become problematic for many other agencies and officers of the law.
Policy manual with applicable sections highlighted:
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