by Ryan Wells
Elburn—An Elburn resident said he was assaulted Friday by an off-duty Kane County Sheriff’s Deputy, sparking an internal investigation by the department’s Office of Professional Standards.
Michael Kowalczyk, 37, of Elburn, said he had just exited his vehicle around 6:30 p.m. on Friday following a minor two-car accident when a man, uninvolved in the accident, reached under his pant leg and withdrew a gun. The man, dressed in street clothes, began to yell at Kowalczyk to not move.
“I never made it to the other car,” Kowalczyk said.
The man continued to yell as he approached.
Kowalczyk, saying he was going to shoot. Kowalczyk said he remained still, and when the man drew to within three to five feet away, he pointed the gun at Kowalczyk’s head, saying he was going to put a bullet in his head.
“I actually contemplated where I was going to get shot, and how it would feel; that’s how serious this guy was,” Kowalczyk said.
Someone must have called the police, Kowalczyk said, because soon a Kane County Sheriff’s Department squad car arrived on the scene. A deputy exited the vehicle, pulled out his weapon, and yelled to the two men, “Who has the weapon?”
According to Kowalczyk, the man in street clothes identified himself as a deputy and claimed that Kowalczyk had a weapon. Kowalczyk was then handcuffed and placed in a squad car.
“I was told, ‘You’re not being arrested, this is for your own safety,'” he said.
Kowalczyk was interviewed by a deputy while in the vehicle, during which time the man in street clothes left the scene of the incident.
Following the interview, Kowalczyk was issued two citations in relation to the accident: one for improper lane usage and another for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident. He said he was also told that the incident report would be available Monday.
Kowalczyk went to the Kane County Courthouse Monday to obtain the incident report, as well as attempt to obtain an order of protection and press charges against the individual. While Kowalczyk was able to obtain the report from the accident, he was unable to obtain the incident report documenting what occurred with the off-duty deputy. In addition, he was unsuccessful in obtaining an order of protection or pressing charges. He said he was told to obtain a lawyer, adding that he is currently in the process of obtaining legal counsel.
“Trying to get any justice out of this situation has been a nightmare,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Department declined to provide the incident report to the Elburn Herald as well, citing the pending investigation.
Lt. Chris Collins, of the Office of Professional Standards in the Kane County Sheriff’s Office, said Kowalczyk’s complaint was made Friday night following the incident, and his office began their investigation when they received the initial report Monday. The officer in question remains on regular, active duty as of press time; although that is subject to change depending on what the preliminary investigation determines.
“If there is a perception that there is a threat to the general public, we would take immediate action to safeguard the public,” Collins said. “Public safety is paramount.”
Collins said it would be unusual for an officer to be pulled from regular duty at the point where a complaint exists.
“Each case has to be looked at individually. Each has its own set of facts, and each requires its own determination,” he said.
The Office of Professional Standards is responsible for gathering the written reports, interviewing everyone involved and anyone who witnessed an incident, and then determining the outcome, which falls within a set of categories:
• Sustained—the allegations against the officer prove true
• Not sustained—a final determination of the validity of the allegations cannot be made one way or the other
• Exonerated—the officer did perform the action being alleged, but the action is both legal and justified
• Unfounded—the allegation is untrue
• Policy failure—the officer performed an action, and the situation is either not covered under existing policy, the policy is unclear, or there are other circumstances that will require the department policy itself to be re-examined
Once that determination has been made, the entire file goes to the department’s chief deputy and sheriff, who then makes the final decision in terms of potential disciplinary action against the officer.
Collins said internal investigations into alleged misconduct are evaluated based on what he called “the reasonableness standard.”
“Basically, it’s what makes sense to most people,” he said. “As individuals, you might believe one thing is reasonable and I might think another thing is reasonable, but where they overlap there is usually a large area where most people would understand what is reasonable.”
Collins said that due to the complaint and the statements from some of the witnesses to the incident, the investigation will focus on the reasonableness of the off-duty’s officers actions.
“There were a number of people there, they said what happened,” Collins said. “This is more of a case study as to what were the perceptions of the individuals at the time the incident occurred.”
He said in these types of cases, his office considers the officer’s perception of the situation at the time of the incident and their decision-making process. They then apply the reasonableness standard and compare that to department policy. If the officer acted against policy, they then determine if it is a pattern of behavior and/or if the officer is a threat.
Collins said that while his department is part of the broader Kane County Sheriff’s Department, it is treated as a largely separate entity.
“We take what we do seriously, and we are professional in what we do,” Collins said. “In my four or five years doing what I do, I have never had political or undue influence placed on my findings. It is important to me that the process is authentic; and the process works.”
Kowalczyk said that based on his experience, the off-duty cop should be pulled from the field and removed from the department.
“If he’s a threat to people, he should not be allowed to be a cop. You don’t get paid with people’s tax dollars to go around and threatening to blow people’s brains out,” Kowalczyk said. “I want his gun removed, his badge taken away, and him to lose his job. No one with that type of power should be able to walk around and abuse it like that.”