A federal lawsuit filed in 2013 by a former North Riverside police sergeant against a former mayor and retired police chief finally went to trial last week and is expected to go to the jury for deliberation by June 16.
Frank Schmalz, a police sergeant and union head who had backed an anti-VIP slate that lost following a bitter village election campaign that spring, filed the lawsuit in November 2013.
Initially, Schmalz named a host of defendants, including the entire village board at the time, along with then-Police Chief Lane Niemann, former Mayor Ken Krochmal and just-elected Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr.
After a decade of twists and turns, including multiple failed attempts to settle the matter out of court, the case went to trial on June 5 in front of U.S. District Court Judge Andrea Wood. The only remaining defendants in the case are Niemann and Krochmal.
Schmalz alleged that following the election in 2013, Niemann retaliated against him by taking him off a coveted drug-and-gang task force, passing him over for promotion to lieutenant and then sending him home in retaliation for backing the slate of 2013 mayoral candidate Rocco DeSantis, also a former police officer who had been elected trustee in 2011.
Niemann and Hermanek contended that Schmalz’s removal was due to a series of duty-related injuries which left him unable to perform his duties as a police sergeant.
Krochmal, who did not run for re-election as mayor in 2013, was sued for defamation for “profanely and publicly” making statements about Schmalz outside the North Riverside Village Commons polling place on election day.
Schmalz testified for two full days on Jan. 6 and 7 last week, with Hermanek testifying as a hostile witness for the plaintiff on June 8 and 9. Deborah Garcia, who was deputy police chief in 2013, also testified on June 9.
In all, 17 people were subpoenaed for testimony at trial.
Niemann was scheduled to testify this week, and Krochmal may also testify in person. In May, Krochmal’s attorney sought to have Krochmal excused from in-person testimony, but that request was protested by Schmalz and later withdrawn.
Following Hermanek’s testimony on June 9, Schmalz filed a motion asking Judge Wood to require Niemann to admit certain facts regarding the loss of “at least 50 text messages” between Niemann and Hermanek.
The text messages were not preserved, and thus are not available to Schmalz to rebut testimony Hermanek provided and which Niemann was expected to provide this week.
“Requiring Niemann to admit basic facts about the text messages puts the evidence before the jury in a fair way,” Schmalz contended in his motion, filed June 10.