CHICAGO (CN) - Retired police officers claim in court that Cook County, Ill., Sheriff Tom Dart has refused to recognize their law enforcement service and allow them a concealed carry permit.
William Henrichs, Myron Alexander, Robert Peluso and Joseph Rizzo say they applied for a concealed carry license under the Illinois Retired Officer Concealed Carry Program, or IROCC, but were denied.
The retired Cook County police officers filed a class action lawsuit against the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board, Dart and members of the board, including chair Valerie Salmons, in Federal Court.
The Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board rejected Henrich's application last month, saying he did not attend an approved law enforcement academy, and that the sheriff's office cannot verify that he was a police officer under IROCC rules. The Oct. 7 denial letter is attached as an exhibit to the complaint.
All Cook County sheriff's deputies are certified peace officers, but only members of the Cook County Sheriff's Police Department are sworn police officers under Illinois law. Sheriff's deputies operate the Cook County jail, transport prisoners, secure county courthouses, enforce evictions, and conduct service of process.
Lucy Kirschinger, attorney for the retired officers, told Courthouse News, "[The board] says they don't qualify as law enforcement officers, so that brings into question, what about the thousands of arrests the officers have made throughout their careers, spanning 30-35 years?"
The proposed class consists of about 186 retired officers who worked as sheriff's officers in Cook County before their retirement.
The lawsuit says the board and Dart "knew or should have known that none of the plaintiffs are prohibited by federal or state law from carrying a firearm."
But Dart has "refused to verify the plaintiffs' status as law enforcement officers or that the plaintiffs were each compliant with the requirements of the [law], all for and in pursuit of his own political agenda," the complaint states.
The retired officers claim the sheriff and the board conspired to ignore Illinois law and deprive them of the ability to verify their law enforcement officer status to obtain a concealed carry card permit. They seek an injunction and punitive damages for alleged due process and equal protection violations.
Kirschinger singled out the sheriff as the reason for the retired officers' troubles.
"It's really Tom Dart. Underneath the entire scheme, and what we hear from the members of the board is, 'It's not us, it's Tom Dart's unknown agenda,'" the attorney said. "Because we don't know why he would deny these officers who gave 30-40 years of their lives, and to now say they're not qualified law enforcement officers is a slap in the face. We can't quote anybody since no one wants to say that openly."
But Cara Smith, Dart's chief strategist, told Courthouse News that the sheriff is bound by Illinois law, and has no desire to exclude the plaintiffs from IROCC.
"Federal law specifically includes correctional officers, but Illinois law specifically excludes them [from qualifying for a concealed carry permit]," Smith said. "That is, Illinois law is narrower than federal law and therefore our correctional staff do not qualify for IROCC status. We've been working with the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board and the plaintiffs to address this disparity in the law and will continue to do so."
Smith continued, "It's not that we don't want to include them, it's that the law doesn't permit it, so we have to change the law."
The board did not immediately respond to email and telephone requests for comment Friday.
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