Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2006 07:01 am
New trial set in another ISP retaliation case
Embattled Illinois State Police Capt. Steve Fermon was on trial again last week, facing a second accusation of retaliating against an underling. This time, the jury deadlocked, resulting in a mistrial. In April, a federal jury found Fermon and his supervisor, Lt. Col. Diane Carper, guilty of retaliating against former ISP Lt. Michale Callahan by transferring him from investigations to patrol. Callahan claimed that the move was punishment for his efforts to reinvestigate the 1986 double homicide of newlyweds Dyke and Karen Rhoads in Paris. In the more recent case, Fermon was accused of retaliating against ISP trooper Lance Dillon for complaints Dillon had made about ISP Special Agent Lou Shanks. In 2000, Shanks and Dillon worked together in a Danville-based multiagency task force called the Vermilion Metropolitan Enforcement Group. The task force set up a drug sting operation just across state lines in Indiana, to take advantage of that state’s tougher sentencing laws. After an Illinois-based drug dealer ensnared in the sting pleaded guilty, Shanks testified at a sentencing hearing that the man sold drugs mainly in Illinois. Dillon told the prosecutor that Shanks’ testimony was inaccurate. To make matters worse, Dillon later repeated this accusation to Ron Haring, a retired ISP officer who worked on a contract basis, performing background checks for ISP. Shanks had applied for a promotion, and Haring ultimately recommended that Shanks not get the job. Shanks, who is a friend of Fermon’s, got the promotion anyway but was subsequently fired for unrelated reasons. The day after Dillon was transferred to patrol, Fermon sent an e-mail to ISP deputy director Dan Kent with the message: “I could kiss you, but I will not. Thanks so much.” The subject line in the e-mail was “Dillon.” Callahan testified briefly in the case, though no one on the jury was aware that he had already won his own similar court case against Fermon, and that fact was not allowed to be presented to the jury. Unlike Callahan, who had a clean disciplinary record at ISP, Dillon had been given at least two significant suspensions for violating ISP policies. One incident involved Dillon’s taking his children to school in his squad car and subsequently lying about it to ISP’s internal-affairs investigators; another incident involved a verbal altercation involving his brother and a tavern patron. The jury in the case had five questions to consider and, after five hours of deliberation, could not reach consensus on any of them. However, the judge acknowledged in open court that jury polls indicated that many members of the panel sympathized with Dillon. Scott Mulford, spokesman for the Illinois attorney general’s office, which represented Fermon at trial, declined to talk about the trial. “In light of what happened, we should probably refrain from commenting,” he said. Dillon’s attorney, John Baker, is taking an optimistic view of the exercise. “There was a big hurdle to overcome to bring a lawsuit like that. We obviously were pleased that enough of [the jurors] saw things in our favor. We were just disappointed that all of them didn’t see things that way,” he said. The case is scheduled for a new trial beginning July 10.