Four DOC Officers Fight to Clear Their Names-A Question of honor

Illinois Police & Sheriff’s News

Four DOC Officers Fight to Clear Their Names
A Question of Honor

IPSN Newspaper, April 28, 1997

Brian Kelly is the son of a former Chicago Police Officer. Brian’s dad, Richard Kelly worked in the Gresham District back in the 1960s. It is Brian’s intention to follow in his dad’s footsteps and wear the blue with pride. In the City of Big Shoulders, police work is often a generational kind of thing.

But in order to realize his wide ranging ambitions, this former probationary officer down at the Department of Corrections faces a tough uphill battle – one that will be resolved one way or another in a court of law.

The Department of Corrections terminated Kelly during his probationary period for allegedly beating a Division 6 inmate named Shantez Rapp. According to Brian Kelly, inmate Rapp was incarcerated for armed robbery and attempted rape when this incident was first reported on January 14, 1996.

Rapp alleges in his complaint that Kelly, Officer John Gianopoulous, a two-year veteran, and probationary officers Bill Peslak and Mark Chwal beat him senseless in an unprovoked attack outside section 2D in Division 6.

“He [Rapp] made allegations that the four of us beat him in the hallway,” Peslak explains.

However, there were no actual eyewitnesses to support such serious charges. No physical injuries inflicted upon Rapp by the officers were reported. Even though Chantez Rapp could not identify his alleged assailants, he has since filed a law suit against the four officers accusing them of unnecessary use of force.

Bill Peslak is not one-hundred per cent certain, but he believes the unfortunate episode stems from an earlier altercation he had with Rapp, when the inmate refused to return to his cell after a visit to the infirmary. “He resisted to a point, and I called for backup. There must have been three or four supervisors present, and maybe 15 D.O.C. officers on the scene. Rapp was quickly contained. I don’t know how else he could have even known who I was.”

Three other officers who were named by Rapp in the original complaint were eventually exonerated of wrong doing. They later testified on Kelly’s behalf that Rapp’s accusations were baseless.

“We don’t know how we were identified,” Brian Kelly adds. “We were never brought up in a lineup.”

The four officers believe they were scapegoated by D.O.C. Assistant Executive Director Lemark Carter. “On April 29th, he called us down to his office after roll call. We were never charged with anything but they gave us a “CR” number for conduct unbecoming. Carter denied us legal counsel and union representation,” Kelly said. “We were not even given the opportunity to resign. Our due process rights were violated.”

On March 13th, a Merit Board hearing was convened for John Gianopoulous. Key documents containing information that might have cleared the officers turned up missing. “Investigator Stanley Augustiniak of the Sheriff’s Internal Affairs unit told our lawyer this,” Kelly explains. “The State’s Attorney’s office admitted as much at the Merit hearing.”

John Gianopolous was ordered suspended without pay.

Peslak, Chwal, and Kelly were not allowed to participate in the Merit Board hearing because of their probationary status.

In desperation they sought out the assistance of Teamsters Local 714 – the farcical union local there to represent the interests of all correctional officers. In typical high-handed Teamster fashion, steward Charles Edwards turned to Peslak and curtly advised him to: “Go back to your sponsor. He got you your job!”

“I have no sponsor,” Peslak sighs. “I’m not a political guy.”

Politics is a way of life down at the Department of Corrections. You either have a sponsor, or you don’t. Pity for those who do not.

Officer Bill Lehmann, a four-and-a-half-year veteran assigned to Division 5, echoes Peslak’s frustration with the system and the hostile, unsupportive attitudes of some of the supervisors. “Nobody is policing the brass,” Lehmann complains. “They talk to us like [EXPLETIVE DELETED]. It’s the lions against the lamb – every day.”

It boils down to an issue of credibility. The D.O.C. brass chose to accept the word of an inmate who could not identify his attackers, against four expendable officers who were discharged on April 30, 1996.

Chwal, Kelly, Peslak, and Gianopoulous are in court defending themselves against a lawsuit filed by Chantez Rapp’s attorney. They have retained the services of a law firm to represent them on this matter, and before an Appellate Court judge in a final push to clear their names.

For Brian Kelly who is working security at the Four Seasons Hotel downtown, he believes his chances of being hired in Chicago rests squarely on a favorable outcome stemming from this lawsuit.

Mark Chwal is presently unemployed. John Gianopoulous is clerking for a law firm. Obviously, they would rather be doing other things.

These days, Bill Peslak is working as a part-time police officer in South Suburban Crestwood, another politically charged jurisdiction. He is very close to accepting a job at O’Hare Airport with the Aviation Police pending the successful completion of his power test.

“I have no desire to go back to the Department of Corrections – unless it is the only thing available to me in the law enforcement field,” he says with understandable bitterness. “I just hope to clear my name and reputation and move on with life.”

That’s why personal vindication is so important to these men. To defray their legal expenses, friends and well-wishers have generously contributed to a special fund established in their name.