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Local News

Court date set in lawsuit over reinstatement of fired Yorkville police sergeant

Yorkville Sgt. Sarah Klingel in a screenshot from the video of a September 2017 arrest that led to an internal investigation into the arresting officers' conduct.
Yorkville Sgt. Sarah Klingel in a screenshot from the video of a September 2017 arrest that led to an internal investigation into the arresting officers' conduct.

YORKVILLE – The United City of Yorkviille's request to not re-hire a former police sergeant fired for conduct issues from a September 2017 arrest will be back in court in two months.

On Thursday, Sept. 10, Kendall County Judge Stephen Krentz pushed back the case regarding the recommended reinstatement of former Yorkville Police Sgt. Sarah Klingel, according to circuit clerk officials. Krentz attended the hearing in person while legal counsel for the United City of Yorkville and the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police union attended remotely, per circuit clerk officials.

The case is due back in court 1 p.m. Nov. 2 at the Kendall County Courthouse, according to circuit clerk officials.

Klingel was fired as a result of a Sept. 14, 2017 incident, where officers were called to the home of Tad Johnson, 44, and his mother, Charlene Johnson, 72, in the 2500 block of Overlook Court.

Klingel, who was a police supervisor at the time, and two officers arrived on scene after police received a report that Tad Johnson was arguing with his mother and throwing trash in the street.

Police dash camera footage showed Yorkville Police Ofc. Jeffrey Johnson yelling at Tad Johnson to “finish [himself] off” while Tad Johnson strangled himself in front of the house window after Tad and Charlene Johnson refused to open the door for police officers.

Both Tad and Charlene Johnson initially were arrested for resisting a police officer and Tad Johnson also was charged with disorderly conduct. Kendall County Judge Stephen Krentz found Tad Johnson not guilty of disorderly conduct and resisting a peace officer and Charlene Johnson not guilty of resisting a peace officer during a July 11, 2018 bench trial. The city council later approved an agreement to settle the federal case Tad Johnson and Charlene Johnson vs. City of Yorkville during a May 28, 2019 meeting.

Following the incident, Klingel was fired from the police department, Ofc. Johnson was suspended and Ofc. Christopher Hayes was disciplined in early August 2018.

Klingel was accused of arresting someone without justification, failing to report inappropriate conduct to her supervisors, interfering with an investigation, violating conduct guidelines related to her supervisory responsibilities and violating conduct rules concerning morale, police image and public confidence, according to court documents.

The police union later filed a grievance on Klingel's behalf and challenged the police department's decision to fire her, according to court documents. The department denied the grievance and the matter went into arbitration.

Arbitrator Steven Bierig wrote in the July 2019 opinion that Yorkville police proved that Klingel committed the violations the department accused her of, according to court documents.

However, Bierig, in his opinion, directed the police department to instead subject Klingel to a 120-day unpaid disciplinary suspension, reinstate her with backpay after the 120 days and to create a last-chance agreement with Klingel where, if she engages in substantially similar behavior within a year of her reinstatement, she would be subject to immediate termination.

"I find that the city had just cause to discipline [Klingel], but the penalty of termination amounts to disparate treatment" despite Klingel being a higher rank than the two officers, Bierig wrote.

According to the lawsuit filed October 2019, the Yorkville Police Department wants the arbitrator's opinion about Klingel's reinstatement to be vacated and the judge to declare that part of the opinion void.

As a supervisor, Klingel "unilaterally created differing levels of conduct by declining to voluntarily accept a demotion as part of that consistent treatment that would have allowed her to continue her employment without possessing supervisory responsibilities going forward," the city's legal counsel wrote in court documents.

The Illinois Fraternal Order of Police union said in court documents they wanted the judge to uphold the arbitrator's opinion because whether Klingel was discharged for just cause is for an arbitrator to decide.

An employer and union who sign a contract agree to let an arbitrator settle disputes, the union's lawyer wrote in court documents. Possible grounds for vacating an arbitration award – including fraud, refusal to postpone a hearing and no agreement to arbitrate among the two parties – do not apply to this situation, the union's legal counsel wrote.

"Just because the employer has buyer's remorse does not allow for this court to reweigh facts," legal counsel for the union wrote.

Former Yorkville Police Chief Rich Hart previously had called the conduct of Klingel and the two officers “unprofessional” but declined additional comment on May 24, 2019. Yorkville Police Chief Jim Jensen declined comment on the court case following the City Council meeting on Tuesday.

Klingel declined comment regarding the lawsuit and matters related to the lawsuit on Thursday.

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