Secret letters, lies, video: Caseyville bubbles before police chief vote

News-DemocratMarch 18, 2014 

As Caseyville leaders get ready to decide the fate of their police chief Wednesday night, two confidential letters surfaced: one showing the chief at odds with his officers; the other showing an effort to fire Bob Romanik's son.

They also hint at the alliances and what Caseyville Police Chief Jose Alvarez meant during his video-taped village meeting rant when he yelled at Mayor Leonard Black that Romanik, a felon and talk radio host, really ran the village police department.

The first letter was from the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council to Caseyville Mayor Leonard Black. In it, union field representative Mark Rusillo wrote that he had grave concerns about command of the department after officers contacted him.

"Much has happened since the investigation of former Chief J.D. Roth and as tumultuous as that string of events was, a crisis of morale that has ensued under the new chief now takes its toll on these officers who are responsible for the safety and the security of the village," Rusillo's letter stated. Alvarez became chief in September after Roth killed himself while under indictment for obtaining a pickup seized in a drug bust.

"The fact that the village leadership has sought to terminate the current chief twice in the past month and the subsequent public demonstration by the chief at the village hall speak volumes to the status of the current work environment. The officers feel that some of this behavior may be criminal and, as such, may bring disrepute to a hardworking team of dedicated police officers."

The second confidential letter was from village attorney John Gilbert to the mayor and village board in which Gilbert said Alvarez "lied to the Board of Police Commissioners on March 4" when he said evidence to support his request to terminate a probationary officer was in the hands of St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly.

"At that meeting Alvarez recommended to the board for the second time that Officer Steve Romanik be terminated while on probation with the Caseyville Police Department," the letter states. Steve Romanik, who is Bob Romanik's son, could not be reached.

When Alvarez was asked by police commissioners for evidence to support terminating Steve Romanik, Alvarez said the documents were in Kelly's hands and Kelly advised him not to share them with the board. Alvarez also told commissioners they would "be called before a grand jury to investigate what Alvarez described as leaks of information about what occurred at the police board's executive session" in February. Gilbert's letter noted that he was not present at that meeting.

Gilbert's letter states he received a call on March 5 from Kelly asking him what happened at the March 4 meeting. Gilbert told Kelly what Alvarez said about Kelly having the evidence and the board wanted to see it before they made a decision about Steve Romanik.

Kelly said none of the statements about evidence or a grand jury that Alvarez made to the police board was true, and that Gilbert could tell that to the commissioners, the letter stated. "He communicated to me that there was no grand jury investigation of the police board of the Village of Caseyville," Gilbert's letter stated.

After Alvarez said Gilbert misrepresented what Kelly said, Gilbert set up a meeting with Kelly. Police board chairman John Vieluf and Commissioner Don Staley attended.

"That meeting occurred on March 10 at 2 p.m., in Kelly's office" and Kelly reiterated that what Alvarez said was false, the confidential letter stated. "This included some of the allegations that Alvarez made against Steve Romanik at the Board of Police Commissioners meeting in support of the termination recommendation."

Staley confirmed that the letter's version of Kelly's statements was correct. Vieluf declined comment.

Kelly said, "My office does not comment on confidential communications with any police commission involving law enforcement personnel."

The News-Democrat also obtained a letter that Kelly sent to the Caseyville board members Tuesday.

In that letter, Kelly said that as state's attorney, he routinely communicates with both elected and appointed municipal officials and members of police and fire commissions regarding public safety and law enforcement issues. But, "In light of recent events, further communications by my office with the elected and appointed officials of the village of Caseyville regarding law enforcement issues will be in writing, or not at all, and most likely the latter, until such time as some minimal level of governance can be restored," the letter said.

Police Commissioner John Buckley was not at the meeting with Kelly, but said he received the letter from Gilbert. He said it doesn't change his support for Alvarez.

"I want the paperwork to see just because of all of the turmoil that's been here lately," Buckley said, although he declined to name the officer whose termination is being considered. "I believe the chief when he says he has documents."

Buckley said the chief has made good progress in a short time, eliminating drug houses and working with residents.

Caseyville Board member Brenda Williams said the letter does not sway her opinion of the chief. She has been supportive of Alvarez throughout the upheaval in Caseyville.

Caseyville Trustee Kerry Davis said he was aware Gilbert's letter was out in public, and said it shouldn't be.

Neither Mayor Black not Trustee Rick Casey Jr. had any comment. Other board members and Alvarez could not be reached.

Black twice tried to fire Alvarez, but trustees blocked the move. Both sides went to court and agreed not to do any more firing or rehiring until the meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Bob Romanik is a former Washington Park police chief with a felony conviction for lying to a federal agent related to the Thomas Venezia video gambling ring. He hosts a talk show on WQQZ-1190 AM as the "Grim Reaper of Radio."

Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.

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