Arbitrator: Freeburg was right to fire officers accused of vandalism

News-DemocratDecember 11, 2013 

A state arbitrator found that the village of Freeburg acted appropriately when it fired two of its police officers who broke into the evidence locker, damaged police property and pulled pranks on fellow officers.

In his report issued last week, Gerard Fowler, the arbitrator who decided the case, wrote that John Blomenkamp and Steve Burrow's conduct "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."

But a lawyer for the officers said the police chief and mayor fired Blomenkamp and Burrows for political reasons.

"The action of the village may have been motivated by these two officers' union activities," said Bill Berry, the lawyer for Burrows and Blomenkamp.

As part of their grievance, Burrows and Blomenkamp asked for their jobs to be restored, along with back pay since the date of their firing on Aug. 3, 2012.

Brian Manion, Freeburg's village attorney, said he hoped this will be the end of the matter.

"From the village's prospective, this closes this chapter," Manion said. "It should be the end of the matter."

But Berry isn't sure if he is ready to concede.

"We have some time to decide. We haven't made a decision yet," Berry said.

In 2011, Chief Mel Woodruff met with the union president and the two agreed to a video surveillance in a multipurpose room.

The camera caught:

* Burrows kicking and denting another officer's file cabinet and lockers.

* Blomenkamp going through other officers' file cabinets and taking documents.

* Blomenkamp taking another officer's pair of gloves.

* Burrows and Blomenkamp entering the permanent evidence locker, damaging the lock and door. The two men were attempting to watch a DVD of a traffic stop where Burrows saved the lives of other village officers by pushing them out of the way of a speeding car.

* Burrows opening another officer's mail without permission.

The allegations included reports that Burrows and Blomenkamp engaged in acts of vandalism and pranks inside and outside the police department. Burrows was also accused of submitting false time logs on three different occasions.

The two were questioned about the incidents by St. Clair County Sheriff's Capt. Steve Johnson and Mike Hundelt. The arbitrator found the two men lied during the interrogation.

State's Attorney Brendan Kelly, who opted not to pursue criminal charges against the two, told the arbitrator that the officers could no longer effectively serve as police officers.

"The public expects professional to be the hallmark of a police department if citizens are to respect and trust the police," Kelly told the arbitrator.

But Berry contends the officers were merely engaged in union activities with a contract that pitted Blomenkamp and Burrows against the mayor and police chief.

"There were two camps regarding the adoption of the contract that was to be voted on by union members. The chief and the mayor were on one side and my clients were on the other," Berry said.

After the contract was approved, Blomenkamp was elected union president.

Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at bhundsdorfer@bnd.com or 618-239-2570.

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