CHICAGO (CN) – Three men arrested in the investigation of a veteran police officer’s death sued Fox Lake, Ill., claiming it had reason to know the officer’s death was a suicide, not a murder.
Officer Charles Joseph Gliniewicz of the Fox Lake Police Department was found dead on Sept. 1, 2015, in the woods along the village.
Immediately before his death, Gliniewicz radioed dispatchers that he was in pursuit of three suspects at an abandoned cement plant, according to court records. When he was found shot with his own weapon, it was assumed that he was killed by one of the suspects.
Early media reports blamed the “Black Lives Matter” movement and tied Gliniewicz’s death to a “war on police.” Thousands of people attended his funeral, and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner ordered the state to fly flags at half mast in his honor.
A massive manhunt with more than 400 police officers raked the woods near the lake, but searchers had no description of the purported murder suspects except Gliniewicz’s claim that he was chasing two “male whites” and one “male black.”
Three men caught up in this sweep – Raymond Willoughby, Damien Ward and Dan Cooper – sued the Village of Fox Lake, Police Chief Michael Behan, and John Doe police officers for arresting them without probable cause. Their class-action complaint was filed Thursday in Chicago federal court.
Willoughby, Ward and Cooper were allegedly held up to 10 hours with no evidence tying them to the officer’s death.
The investigation ultimately revealed that Gliniewicz’s death was a carefully staged suicide, as an audit was close to unearthing evidence he had been embezzling money from the police department’s Explorer initiative, a program for mentoring young people interested in a law enforcement career, for at least seven years.
“Unbeknownst to the plaintiffs or the public at large, there was good reason to suspect from the very outset that Gliniewicz’s death was a suicide, and even the initial Fox Lake police department responders noted irregularities inconsistent with both that of a murder victim and what they professed to have understood of Gliniewicz’s character,” the lawsuit states.
Hundreds of people were stopped, questioned, arrested or detained as part of the murder investigation, according to the complaint.
The three plaintiffs claim then-Police Chief Michael Behan did not immediately tell investigators that Gliniewicz texted Behan hours before his death, complaining that the auditor was requesting a complete inventory and financial report of the Explorer program – information which might have given investigators an early clue about his motive for killing himself.
“In spite of such knowledge, the Fox Lake police department continued to perpetuate the narrative that Gliniewicz’s death was a homicide, and continued to participate extensively in, and detain innocent citizens pursuant to, an investigation that they knew or had reason to know was pure fiction,” the lawsuit continues.
Willoughby, Ward and Cooper seek compensatory and punitive damages and are represented by Gregory E. Kulis in Chicago.
The Fox Lake Police Department could not be reached for comment Friday.