State Rep. La Shawn Ford (left) and Riverside Director of Public Safety Matthew Buckley call on state board to reinstate decertified officer Zenna Ramos (far right) on Aug. 22, 2023 | Francia Garcia Hernandez

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker joined Riverside village officials and State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (D-8th) in calling for the reinstatement of Zenna Ramos as a Riverside police officer.

In a statement issued Aug. 23, the governor said he hoped the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board will reverse its decision “based on all the facts and circumstances” presented by Ramos and the village of Riverside.

“Officer Ramos is a model of someone who, despite making a mistake during a difficult time in her life, has rehabilitated and learned from that,” he said.

Ramos was decertified as a police officer by the state board in April.

Pritzker’s support came after State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (D-8th) called on the state board to reinstate Riverside police officer Zenna Ramos on Aug. 22. He said the decision counters the SAFE-T Act’s intent.

“We believe that they actually have the ability to reinstate officer Ramos today even based on the way the law is written,” Ford said in a press conference at the Riverside Township Hall.

Ford said the state board has taken the language of the state law known as SAFE-T Act as a reason to decertify Ramos after the village of Riverside requested the board waived basic training for the officer. Decertification means she can’t serve as a police officer anywhere in the state.

“Our interpretation of the SAFE-T Act as it is does not create a problem and Miss Ramos could be working as police officer,” he said. 

In 2008, Ramos was arrested for allegedly stealing three shirts, valued at a total of $14.99, from J.C. Penney at the North Riverside Park Mall. She was not a police officer then, but rather a 22-year-old single parent struggling with domestic violence-related issues who acted out of desperation. 

“I take full responsibility for my actions,” Ramos said, standing next to Ford, near tears. “I did everything right to better myself for myself and my family so I could be a police officer.”

During the past 15 years, she worked to turn her life around. She became a police officer in Cicero in 2021, a position she held until her resignation in 2022. She was hired by the Riverside police department in February this year. 

The state board’s ruling to decertify Ramos is based on the 2008 arrest, even though the charge was later vacated from her record, according to documents provided by the village of Riverside. The board state argued that her record disqualifies her from a training waiver and automatically triggered her decertification. 

“There’s an old proverb that says ‘the person who steals once is always thought a thief,’ and while such thinking may be unfair, it is not uncommon particularly in light of today’s jury opinions of police,” the ILETSB executive director said in a June letter to the village of Riverside.

The state board also argued an officer convicted with a felony or qualifying misdemeanor should not be provided a waiver. It mentioned that while the SAFE-T Act does not list retail theft as a qualifying misdemeanor, “retail theft is not only the equivalent of theft but is arguably a more serious offense.” The interpretation comes based on a definition of retail theft over $300 as a felony, even though the value of the goods Ramos stole in 2008 is equivalent to $14.99, which would qualify as Class A misdemeanor. 

“That’s always a problem with interpreting the law,” Ford said.

“Everyone has the right to interpret. We’ve talked to our lawyers in Springfield and they assured me that the way we wrote it, Miss Ramos situation is not a disqualifier.” 

What further complicates the case is that ILETSB had certified Ramos as a police officer in August 2021, a month after she was hired as a patrol officer in Cicero. 

As part of the police officer application process, candidates are asked to disclose any prior arrests or convictions. Disclosure does not automatically disqualify someone from becoming a police officer. Ramos disclosed her arrest in both her Cicero and Riverside applications.

Riverside Director of Public Safety Matthew Buckley said the police department decided to hire Ramos because her career showed she is deserving of a second chance. He added that through this process he has learned the board only conducts a background check when police officers transfer between departments, not upon their first hire. 

“If she stayed in Cicero and didn’t try to move to another village to improve her services, she would still be a police officer,” Ford said. “But because she tried to do better for herself and serve in another community, she got decertified.” 

Though there is no formal appeal process, the village will present Ramos’ case to a subgroup of the ILETSB board of commissioners next week. 

“We are hopeful that they’re going to look at it and reverse it but also doubtful that that may happen because they keep falling back on the SAFE-T Act,” Buckley said. 

Riverside village officials and law enforcement continue to fully support Ramos, calling on the state board to reverse its decision. In the meantime, Ramos continues to work at the desk, doing some administrative duties and community service officer duties, “nothing related to police work.” 

“Zenna is definitely a good officer. She has shown that by everything that she has accomplished in the last 15 years,” Buckley said, adding she is a great addition to Riverside’s diverse police force. 

As previously reported, the decision to decertify Ramos surfaced in July, after the officer’s name was placed on a “Do Not Call” list by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. 

In a letter dated July 21, the village’s attorney Yvette Heintzelman argues that by placing Ramos in the Do Not Call List without providing Ramos an opportunity to respond, the ILETSB damaged Ramos’s reputation in her profession. The village also argues the state board is retroactively applying the Safe T Act for a 2008 charge. 

For now, Ramos hopes the state board will allow her to return to do “what she worked for all her life.” 

“I feel like my life experiences would make me a better police officer because I can understand what people are going through and I can better relate to them,” she said.