A North Riverside police sergeant has sued the village of North Riverside, its village board, its police chief, a former mayor and three former village trustees, claiming he was passed over for promotion and removed from a coveted position on a drug and gang task force because he supported political candidates who challenged the VIP Party during the 2013 elections.
Detective Sgt. Frank Schmalz, a police officer in North Riverside since 1985, filed his four-count lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Nov. 7. In addition to asking that the court order him to be promoted to the rank of lieutenant or commander, Schmalz also seeks unspecified monetary damages.
Schmalz also seeks monetary damages for “mental suffering, personal humiliation and impairment of personal and professional reputation” resulting from remarks allegedly made by former Mayor Kenneth Krochmal on Election Day outside the North Riverside Village Commons polling place.
Also named as defendants in the lawsuit are Mayor Hugh Hermanek Jr.; Police Chief Lane Niemann; village trustees H. Bob Demopoulos, Vera Wilt, Jason Bianco, Deborah Czajka, Matthew Decosola and Joe Mengoni; and former trustees Tom Corgiat, Randy Czajka and Rocco DeSantis.
The lawsuit revolves around what transpired during and after the 2013 village elections, a campaign during which Schmalz publicly backed DeSantis and his Transparency and Accountability in Politics Party (TAP) against Hermanek and the VIP Party.
The trouble began, Schmalz claims, when he began advocating for DeSantis in the latter’s run for North Riverside mayor. At two meetings (one in October 2012 and one in January 2013) of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #110, which represents North Riverside police officers, Schmalz advocated for union members to support DeSantis in his campaign against Hermanek in the April 9, 2013 election.
During the January 2013 FOP meeting, union members voted to support DeSantis and other members of the TAP Party who were running for seats on the village board. Schmalz also actively campaigned in support of the party.
It is widely believed that if DeSantis had been elected mayor, he would have appointed Schmalz as police chief, a claim referred to on multiple occasions in the lawsuit.
In retaliation for supporting its political rivals, Schmalz claims, the VIP leadership, including then-Mayor Krochmal targeted him. On Election Day outside the Village Commons polling place things got personal, Schmalz states in his lawsuit.
Schmalz alleges that Krochmal confronted him and stated, among other things, “You wait and see what I have planned for you,” and defamed him by claiming Schmalz had sex with underage girls while on duty.
On April 11, two days after the election — swept by VIP’s candidates — Schmalz contends that Krochmal, “with the advice and consent of the village board, demoted then-Police Chief Anthony Garvey to the rank of commander, named Niemann police chief and named Lt. Debbie Garcia deputy chief.
Schmalz, who is currently on duty-related injury leave from the force, contends that he should have been promoted to the rank of lieutenant at that time, because he was the only sergeant on the promotion list and there was a vacant lieutenant’s position.
On April 22, Schmalz states he was removed from the West Suburban Enhanced Drug and Gang Enforcement (WEDGE) task force and replaced by Detective Carlos Garcia, who is the husband of Deputy Chief Garcia and told by Niemann that he “would never be promoted.”
The lawsuit does not address the fact that the changes in the police command structure were made official by a vote of the village board on May 13 and that Hermanek, not Krochmal, was mayor at that time.
Reached Thursday afternoon, Schmalz said he did not wish to comment on the lawsuit, but said, “I stand by the timeline” outlined in it.
Hermanek and Niemann declined to comment on the suit. Krochmal could not be reached for comment.
Schmalz claims that the village’s actions against him constitute an infringement of his First Amendment rights.