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Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012 04:24 am

An eye for the ladies

Inappropriate contact by former cop alleged

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Former Jerome police officer Steven Stirmell is scheduled to be tried in September on charges of official misconduct and obstructing justice.

Former Jerome police officer Steven Stirmell kept nude photographs of himself on the police department’s computer system and also made unwelcome advances toward women, according to investigative files prepared by village police and investigators with the state attorney general’s office.

Furthermore, the investigation at one point spilled over to the Sangamon County sheriff’s department, which conducted an internal probe into Deputy Travis Koester, who fell under suspicion after a woman arrested by Stirmell said that the deputy told her that he would try to fix a driving-under-the-influence charge. The internal investigation neither proved nor disproved the allegation. Koester remains on duty and was not disciplined.

Stirmell was indicted in June on felony charges of official misconduct and obstructing justice, with trial set for Sept. 10. Prosecutors say that he falsified a police report filed in April, two weeks after arresting Kathleen Vehovic, daughter of former Sangamon County Democratic Party chairman Todd Renfrow, on suspicion of driving under the influence. In the report, Stirmell said that Vehovic had taken a Listerine tablet prior to a breath test, which could throw off results. In fact, Vehovic herself told investigators that she did no such thing.

The Vehovic case was just one piece of an investigation that began Feb. 18, when fellow officers found a nude photograph of Stirmell on a police department office computer. Investigators determined that Stirmell had been visiting online dating websites on the police department computer and downloading photographs of women from the sites.

The department had been receiving anonymous complaints that Stirmell had been contacting women he had stopped on suspicion of traffic offenses and that he had sent inappropriate photographs of himself to women, according to a request for help village police sent to the state attorney general’s office.

A Leland Grove officer told investigators that a woman he knew whose name was redacted from reports had received text messages and photographs from Stirmell more than a year ago, including one that showed the Jerome officer clad only in boxer shorts with an accompanying message: “Do you want some of this?” When the woman sent a text message asking Stirmell to stop sending messages, he did, according to a report released by the attorney general. According to the report, Stirmell had stopped the woman and cited her for not wearing a seat belt, but it’s not clear when. The woman declined to file a complaint against Stirmell.

“He left me alone as soon as I asked him to and I don’t want to stir anything up,” the woman wrote in a text message to an investigator. “It seems you all have more than enough to go on without my details.”

Stirmell, the son of Jerome’s mayor, made an unwelcome sexual advance toward a woman during the summer of 2008 while working as an officer in Divernon.

The woman, who said that she and Stirmell had been talking to each other by telephone and that a friend had been trying to arrange a blind date, told a state investigator that she agreed to meet Stirmell one night at the officer’s request. She told the investigator that she thought he wanted to go out for a beer. When she reached Divernon, Stirmell was parked outside a store. After the woman got into Stirmell’s patrol car, he asked her to follow him someplace, but the woman told him that she didn’t have gas, and she told the investigator that she didn’t feel comfortable following the officer because she didn’t know him.

After a bit of conversation, Stirmell pulled his pants down, exposed himself and requested a sex act, the woman told the investigator. The woman, who had never before met Stirmell, said that she got out of the patrol car, returned home and never spoke with the officer again. However, Stirmell pulled her over a year later after joining the Jerome police force and cited her for not wearing a seat belt.

More recently, Stirmell last spring telephoned John Sharp, a defense attorney who concentrates on driving-under-the influence cases, and said that he didn’t want a DUI case against one of the lawyer’s clients to go forward.

Stirmell had arrested the woman represented by Sharp, who contacted prosecutors and was subsequently interviewed by a Jerome police officer.

“Steve…told (Sharp) that he doesn’t like to write DUI’s to people in the medical community and he wanted to let it go, go away,” the officer wrote in his report. “(Sharp) told me that he knew what Officer Stirmell wanted, it was very clear that Steve wanted this DUI case to be dismissed. (Sharp) said it’s very strange to get a phone call like this since he is a defense attorney, he said it was out of character.”

Stirmell knew from the start that the woman was employed as a nurse – a video of the March 16 arrest shows that she told him her occupation after pulling her over for weaving while driving on Wabash Avenue. The video also shows that she was distraught, crying and openly worried that she would be fired because of the arrest. In his report, Stirmell writes that he gave the 26-year-old woman a small break by handcuffing her with her hands in front of her body instead of behind her back.

“I observed (the woman) had very tight pants on and I observed no bulges in her pockets and (she) did not appear to have any weapons,” Stirmell wrote.

The DUI case against the woman was among several that have been dismissed since Stirmell came under investigation last spring.

Three days after being arrested, the woman was introduced to a man and began dating him, according to a state report. The circumstances behind the introduction aren’t clear, and the attorney general’s office redacted the man’s name from the document. However, Illinois Times has confirmed that the man was Deputy Koester of the Sangamon County sheriff’s office, who concentrates on DUI enforcement for the county department.

The relationship lasted three dates, according to the state report, but before breaking it off, Koester sent a text message to the woman asking if she had been arrested for DUI.

“(H)e told her that he could talk to the cop that gave her the DUI and attempt to make it go away,” a state investigator wrote in his report.

The woman told the investigator that Koester subsequently told her that he had spoken with Stirmell and that the DUI “was going to get taken care of.” The woman also said that Koester told her not to tell anyone that he had spoken to Stirmell about her DUI. The woman said she last spoke with Koester the second week of April; Sharp received the call from Stirmell on April 3 or April 4, according to reports.

Sharp confirmed receiving a call from Stirmell, but declined to answer any questions in light of pending criminal charges against the officer.

Chief deputy Jack Campbell said that the department could not determine whether Koester had done anything wrong.

“We did an internal investigation regarding this issue and determined it was unsubstantiated,” Campbell said. A finding of unsubstantiated means investigators could neither prove nor disprove wrongdoing, he added.

Sangamon County state’s attorney John Milhiser declined comment on any allegations regarding Stirmell or Koester.

“I’m not going to comment on uncharged allegations contained in the investigation,” Milhiser said. “If additional information is discovered and investigated and additional charges are appropriate, yes, there could be (additional) charges in the future.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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