A former North Riverside police sergeant, whose 2013 federal lawsuit alleging defamation and political retaliation against him by a former mayor and other officials is still pending, has filed another complaint in the U.S. District Court to force the village to pay him more than $60,000 for benefits he’s entitled to under the Public Safety Employees Benefits Act.
Frank Schmalz claims in his lawsuit filed March 29 in federal court in Chicago that the village refuses to pay him $66,453 in accrued benefits awarded to him late last year in Cook County Circuit Court.
Judge Anna M. Loftus on Nov. 16, 2020 ruled that the village of North Riverside improperly denied Schmalz benefits related to a line-of-duty disability that effectively ended his nearly 30-year career as a North Riverside police officer.
The village argued that the law surrounding the award of disability benefits had been misinterpreted in the past, but Loftus rejected those arguments, suggesting that North Riverside’s arguments “appear squarely aimed at a change in the governing law, if not an outright reversal” of previous interpretations of the law.
“Such arguments are not for this court to consider,” Loftus wrote in her opinion, which awarded Schmalz benefits retroactive to July 20, 2016, the date the North Riverside Police Pension Board determined Schmalz qualified for a line-of-duty disability pension.
The new lawsuit filed in federal court names both the village and Acting Village Administrator Sue Scarpiniti as defendants. According to the lawsuit, Scarpiniti, who is also the treasurer of the North Riverside Police Pension Board, voted against awarding Schmalz a line-of-duty disability pension and continues to withhold payment of the benefits awarded to Schmalz in Cook County Circuit Court.
“Why would the village withhold disability pension benefits for an injured police officer and defy a court ruling that the benefits were owed?” asked Schmalz’s attorney, Jeffrey R. Kulwin.
In addition to the $66,453 in accrued benefits, Schmalz also seeks a federal judge to have the defendants pay unspecified punitive damages and attorney’s fees.
“Unfortunately, I am not able to comment on this issue,” said Scarpiniti in response to an email last week from the Landmark seeking a response to the new lawsuit. “I can say neither the village nor myself have received any notice of this lawsuit as of yet.”
2013 case still awaiting trial date
Meanwhile, there’s been no trial date set for Schmalz’s other pending federal lawsuit against the village of North Riverside.
The former detective sergeant filed the lawsuit in late 2013, several months after a bitterly contested election that saw Schmalz actively and vocally supporting a slate of candidates challenging the incumbent VIP Party majority’s slate.
Things came to a head on Election Day in spring 2013 when former Mayor Kenneth Krochmal, who was not running for re-election, confronted Schmalz outside the Village Commons polling place.
Krochmal allegedly “profanely and publicly” defamed Schmalz during a verbal exchange outside the polling place.
Had challenger Rocco DeSantis, also former police officer, been elected mayor, Schmalz was in line to be named police chief. Instead, the winner of the election, Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr., named Lane Niemann chief.
Shortly thereafter, Niemann removed Schmalz from the WEDGE gang/drug task force and refused to promote him to lieutenant despite a vacancy. Schmalz’s last day on the job was in June 2013.
Schmalz filed suit against the village that November, alleging that Krochmal had defamed him and that Hermanek and Niemann had retaliated against him due to his participation in the campaign of Hermanek’s political opponents.