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Daily Journal
     November 10, 2020      #12-315 KDJ

2 Kankakee officers file suit against city 

By Lee Provost

KANKAKEE — Two white Kankakee police sergeants have filed a federal lawsuit against the city claiming overt racism and political discrimination regarding a 2019 promotion to lieutenant.

Sgts. Tim Kreissler and Paul Berge claim they were bypassed for the promotion which went to Michael Sneed, an African-American sergeant.

The 31-page, four-count suit filed in the Central District Court in Urbana, names the city of Kankakee, Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong, Police Chief Frank Kosman, Deputy Chief Willie Hunt, Kankakee Police and Fire Commission and Nickey Yates, a member of the commission, as defendants.

The suit seeks an unspecified judgment regarding compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney’s fees. The two officers are represented by the Herbert Law Firm of Chicago.

A jury trial regarding this case would likely not take place for two years.

In the lawsuit filed last Thursday, Kreissler and Berge were both noted to have scored higher on the lieutenant’s examination than Sneed. According to the suit, Kreissler scored 87.37, which was the department’s top score, and Berge, had a final score of 82.63. Sneed, meanwhile, had a final score of 73.40.

In the lawsuit, Kreissler stated he was told he was passed over despite having the top score because “the leadership in the police department does not look enough like the citizens of Kankakee.”

Also according to the lawsuit, Berge spoke with Chief Kosman as to why he was passed over for the promotion.

According to the suit, Kosman agreed with Berge when he stated that, “Sneed looked more like the Mayor’s administration.” Contact Monday, Kosman said he could not comment on any aspect of the suit.

Kreissler has been a member of the department since March 2002; Berge since February 2006.

Currently, the 66-member force is comprised of 12 black officers and eight Hispanics. The remaining 46 officers are white.

Chief Kosman was allowed to choose from one of the top three lieutenant candidates.

Mayor Wells-Armstrong noted on Monday that promotions come from the police chief.

She added, “It is our practice not to comment on pending litigation. Unrelated to the litigation, I am serving as the first African-American mayor elected in the history of the City of Kankakee, which is a community of diversity. This City is approximately 40 percent Caucasian, 40 percent African-American and 20 percent Latino.

“Since my election, I have been transparent in regard to my desire to diversify the staff and leadership to reflect the demographics of this community. The City adheres to state and federal laws. In addition, all promotions are based on qualifications,” she concluded.

Sneed was promoted to lieutenant in September 2019 and has been a member of the police department since March 1997.

According to 2019 U.S. Census data, which was cited in the lawsuit, Kankakee’s population was 51.4 percent Caucasian, when including whites, Hispanics and Latino residents, and 41.5 percent African-American.

Attorney Dan Herbert, representing the two officers, said the Sneed promotion was a way for the city administration to protect its self-interest. He said discrimination today does not make up for discrimination of years past.

“What’s happening now to white officers is just as egregious as what happened to African-American officers 30 or 40 years ago. Just because the race has changed doesn’t make it any less disturbing,” he said.

Kankakee Patrolman Kris Lombardi, who also serves as president of the Kankakee Federation of Police Lodge 102, said it was in large part due to this situation in which the police approved a “no confidence” vote for the police administration.

While he acknowledged the chief can select any of the top three candidates for the promotion, there should be concrete reasons for passing over officers ranked higher on the promotion’s list.

“There needs to be some valid reason, not ‘just because,’” he said. He said skipping over higher-ranked candidates is simply “playing favorites.”

Lombardi said he has nothing against Sneed.

“I would put up this same stink if Mike Sneed was No. 1 and he was skipped. When promoting within the department, it should be to the No. 1 guy unless there is some just cause,” Lombardi said.

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