UPDATE: Union Responds to Police Chief Decision

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UPDATE: Members of Rockford's Police Union say they feel disrespected by the Police and Fire Commission, after the board decides not to punish Chief Chet Epperson over a controversial 2013 police call, involving NAACP President Lloyd Johnston's home.

The bargaining union continues to call for the Chief's resignation and says they will decide next week whether they plan on appealing.

UPDATE: ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- Rockford's Police and Fire Commission has released the reason they say Chief Chet Epperson shouldn't be punished for the way he handled an emergency call back in 2013.

The Rockford Police Chief mishandled things, but not enough to warrant discipline and his bitter relationship with union leaders is negatively impacting public safety those are the cliff notes of today's rather blunt 12-page report released by the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners.

The report explains why the commission decided not to discipline Rockford police chief Chet Epperson even though they say he mishandled the situation regarding a welfare check of then Rockford N.A.A.C.P. president Lloyd Johnston.

The police union filed a complaint where both sides admitted that Epperson told Johntson not to allow police in his home until a supervisor came.

The three-member board was also extremely critical of the rift between union leaders and Chief Epperson, saying if it weren't for the bitter relationship between the two this complaint would have never been brought before the board.

Union president Terry Peterson says the commission never sent him a copy of the report and he was just able to get a copy around 7:00 tonight.

He disputes many of the commission's claims including their belief that the chief's actions in October of 2013 did not warrant punishment.

He says, "It's puzzling to me that we proved our case, it pretty much says that we proved all the points and all the allegations that we made. And yet the decision or the final decision doesn't seem to correlate well. We have someone who we believe is not a confident leader and therefore there is no trust or respect or any motivation internally for our guys to be able to do the job that we would like to be able to do. "

We tried to reach Chief Epperson but we were unsuccessful.

UPDATE: Rockford's Police and Fire Commission has released the reason they say Chief Chet Epperson shouldn't be punished for the way he handled an emergency call at then-NCAAP President Lloyd Johnston's house in 2013.

The Board says Epperson didn't handle the call the way he should have, however they say that doesn't mean he violated any department policies.

The commission says the hearing would have never taken place if it weren't for what they call a bitter relationship between the chief and union leaders.

They also say Johnston's testimony wasn't consistent with original reports.

For the full report from the Police and Fire Commission, please click on the attached related document.

ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- By our math taxpayers spent roughly $45,000 to pay for Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson’s attorney’s fees as he battled the union in a probable cause hearing, which he won.

"I think they're going to look at this as a double standard," Police Union President Terry Peterson, said.

Police Union President Terry Peterson worries officers will now stay silent when they have problems with management. This after a commission ruled Police Chief Chet Epperson will not be disciplined for actions during a domestic violence call in 2013.

The union’s lawyers accuse Rockford Mayor Morrissey of interfering with the case by trying to pass an ordinance, stopping the proceedings.

"The mayoral administration in this case acted unreasonably and unfairly," Union Attorney Dan Cain, said.

"That's outrageous and it's almost comical when you think about the full page ads that the union ran," Mayor Larry Morrissey, said.

Morrissey says he's ready to put the past behind him and try to strengthen the relationship with the union to make Rockford a better place to live. He says the hearings overshadowed a major success of the police department.

"The Ferguson Missouri's, all the riots in Baltimore, all the challenges with police use of force and that’s where we again with police use of force have a good story to tell about the reduction in the police use of force in the department and the reduction in the complaints about excessive force by citizens and individuals against the department," Mayor Morrissey said.

Morrissey says he'll also re-introduce an ordinance to city council that clarifies the mayor and city council hires, fires, and disciplines the police chief.

The Fire and Police Commission won't give its reasoning for its decision on Epperson for another two to three weeks. After that the union will decide whether it will appeal the ruling.

ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- Rockford's Police Chief will not be disciplined for a controversial phone conversation during a domestic violence call.

The Fire and Police Commission says there wasn't enough probable cause to move forward with disciplinary procedures surrounding Chief Chet Epperson. The commissioners said there wasn’t' enough evidence to discipline the chief, but they didn't go as far to say there was no wrongdoing.

"They feel like the situation wasn't handled ideally but that it wasn't handled in a manner that constituted a violation of the rules and regulations that were subject to punishment," Ian Linnabary, Secretary of the Fire and Police Commission, said.

This case surrounded a conversation Chief Epperson had while on speaker phone with several officers and former NAACP President Lloyd Johnston in 2013. Cops were at Johnston’s home for a domestic violence call. The question at hand was whether Epperson told officers to leave. He admitted to telling Johnston not to let them inside.

The union argued the Chief's actions were a violation of policies and procedures. It also said the Chief misled the courts by saying he was appointed by the Mayor and not the Fire and Police Commission.

Epperson sat through four very long days of the hearing, often times taking notes. He didn't show much of a reaction when the decision was announced, directing any questions to his lawyer who also didn't have much to say.

"The board of Fire and Police Commissioners has obviously made the unanimous decision and that's the only comment that I have," Thomas McGuire, who represented Chief Epperson, said.

"It’s very unfortunate for the City of Rockford for the police department that there is no accountability at this level," Dan McGrail, one of the attorneys representing the Police Union, said.

The commission deliberated on the seven counts for about an hour and a half. To show probable cause the union had to prove the alleged conduct was true and resulted in discipline, and had to support the allegations with more proof than just mere allegations.

The union can appeal the decision to the circuit court. Lawyers said they want to wait until they get commissioners written reasoning before deciding whether to continue forward.

Mayor Morrissey says he's pleased with the commission’s decision.

ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- The Commission has found no probable cause in all 7 counts in the hearing of Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson. A full hearing will NOT take place.

23 News will have the latest on this story tonight at 10.

After three months of testimony deliberations have begun in the probable cause case against Rockford police Chief Chet Epperson.
The Commissioner began deliberations around 5:10 this evening. They told me they don’t’ think it will take long to come to decision.

Today attorneys gave their closing arguments, the union says the chief violated police procedures and undermined officers authority in October 2013 during a domestic violence call. Attorneys centered on the expert testimony from former deputy chief Lori Sweeney which they say Epperson’s attorneys didn’t refute. On the flip side, Epperson’s attorney said the chief’s actions were in line with what he can do as chief.

The lawyer also said if the commission would undermine the chief’s authority if they decide to move forward with a full hearing.
Again the commission has been deliberating for just under an hour. We’ll let you know as soon as they reach a decision.

If the commission decides there is probable cause there will be a full hearing but everything already presented will already be on the record. The union wants Epperson discipline or fired.

UPDATE: ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- Testimony is now complete in the Fire and Police Commission's hearing into Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson.

The commission met for 12 hours on Thursday, hearing testimony from Lt. John Hoeksema and Chief Epperson.

Closing arguments are scheduled for April 30th. Both sides will get one hour to make their final arguments, then the police union will have 30 minutes for a rebuttal.

The commission may or may not make a ruling on April 30th. The union wants Epperson punished for what they say was improper actions while police were on the scene of a domestic call on October 30, 2013.

UPDATE: ROCKFORD (WIFR) – Rockford’s chief of police is back in the hot seat, answering to questions about how he handled a domestic violence call in 2013 to the then NAACP president’s house.

This is the continuation of a hearing in front of the Fire and Police Commission that started two months ago.

Chief Chet Epperson is maintaining his stance again today that he did not tell officers to leave NAACP President Lloyd Johnston’s home during a domestic violence call in October 2013.

The chief is also saying he didn't try to mislead anyone by arguing in Winnebago County Courts the Commission didn't have the right to hire or fire him. The Police Union wants the chief to be fired or punished for both those points. Earlier today, Lieutenant John Hoeksema took the stand. He conducted the internal investigation into the incident. The Police Union used his testimony to discredit and impeach Johnston’s statements under oath. Johnston had testified he was panicked and worried officers would turn violent while they were at his home. After investigating the case and interviewing Johnston, Hoeksema says Johnston’s comments were not true.

The hearing is still going on and in the past commissioners have let it go until 8pm before adjourning for the day. We'll have the latest tonight on 23 News.

This is just a probable cause hearing where the commissioners will decide if there's enough evidence to have a full hearing. If that happens, all the evidence present up until this point will not have to be re-admitted.

UPDATE: ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- The probable cause hearing surrounding a complaint filed against Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson has been postponed until further notice.

According to Ian Linnabary, who's on the Board of Fire and Police Commission, today a judge granted a motion filed by Epperson's attorney for continuance due to a medical problem in the attorney's family. The hearing was initially scheduled to resume on February 19th.

We will continue to update you on this as we learn more.

UPDATE -- Another long day of testimony in the hearing over Rockford's police chief and it's not over yet.

Thursday evening, police union president Terry Peterson took the stand. Chief Chet Epperson is accused of violating the department's policies and procedures when officers were responding to a call at then NAACP President Lloyd Johnston's home. Back in October 2013, Johnston got the chief on the phone and reportedly told Johnston not to let the officers in. Epperson's attorney argues the union filed the complaint against the chief over a long-standing dislike of him. Peterson says the union looked back at several past incidents when deciding to file the complaint.

"He interjected himself in a manner not to do what was in the best interest of the department to support the officers that showed up at the scene but rather obstruct it, you know, the very things that he preaches is our duty and our obligation to the community," says Terry Peterson, PBPA President.

"He said don't let them in, I'm calling the supervisor and at that point Officer Boone screams out, we already called one," says Lloyd Johnston, former NAACP President.

Johnston says Epperson never told officers to leave. Thursday retired deputy chief Lori Sweeney testified that an investigation found all three officers on the scene were truthful when they said Epperson told them to leave. Sweeney also said the chief told her to have officers fix the police report from that night. The hearing will reconvene on February 19.

UPDATE: After more than nine hours, testimony is still underway at a hearing against Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson, regarding a 2013 welfare check.

We've been hearing testimony since 9 a.m. and the Rockford Board of Fire and Police Commissioners is only on witness three right now.

The first witness called by the union today was retired Deputy Chief Lori Sweeney. She was questioned for nearly four hours. Sweeney testified that she believes Epperson was in violation of his duties for telling former NAACP president Lloyd Johnston not to let police officers in his home during a welfare check.

Sweeney also said that Epperson told her to have officers "fix" the approved police report from that night. Epperson claims he never told officers to leave the house, just not to let them inside, since a supervisor was on the way. Sweeney said she can't ask an officer to just change a report.

"Can't tell you what was in the chief's mind but I can tell you my inference of that, when he said 'fix the report,' is he merely wanted that sentence removed from the report. In fact one of the emails that went back and forth, he said, 'just don't make this a bigger thing, I just want it taken care of,'" said Sweeney.

Sweeney says an investigation found testimony from all three officers who were at Johnston's home in October 2013, was consistent. She says they all said they heard Epperson on speaker phone, tell Johnston to tell officers to leave.

However, Lloyd Johnston testified about the conversation. He agrees that Epperson told him, to tell officers not to come in, but he never said anything about the chief telling officers to leave.

Johnston said, "The Chief says, 'Don't let (officers) in, I'm sending a supervisor.'"

Epperson's attorney asked, "Did the chief at any time, in any way say anything else than what you testified to?"

"(No), other than I'll talk to you later," said Johnston.

Johnston testified that when he spoke with union president Terry Peterson days later, Peterson said to him that Epperson should've never told officers to leave.

Johnston says he told Peterson that Epperson didn't tell officers to leave. Johnston says Peterson told him, 'you know we've been trying to get the chief out of here,' and 'I hope you'll help us out.'"

Johnston says he originally meant to call Terry Peterson the night of the incident, since officers showed up at his door with a complaint about some sort of abuse toward his son, which he says was later unfounded. Johnston said the situation seemed suspicious so he wanted a witness. When he started scrolling through his phone, Johnston says he came across Chief Epperson' s number first, so he called him.

ROCKFORD (WIFR) – It’s day two of a hearing involving Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson.

Retired Deputy Chief, Lori Sweeney, who worked directly under Epperson testified on the union’s behalf, saying the Chief was in violation of his duties for allegedly telling NAACP President Lloyd Johnson to tell police officers to leave his home during a welfare check.

Sweeney said interjecting, even by telling Johnston not to let officers in the home, could’ve escalated the situation.
Sweeney also testified that Epperson told her to have officers fix the police report from that night, because he said he never told officers to leave Johnston’s home. However, Epperson does admit he told Johnston not to let police in his home because he called a supervisor.

Sweeney says she can’t ask an officer to change a report, so an investigation began. Sweeney says testimony from all three officers who were at Johnston’s home in October of 2013 was consistent. She says they all said they heard Epperson on speaker phone tell Johnston to tell officers to leave.

23 News Reporter Lauren Kravets is at today's hearing. You can follow it on her Twitter @LaurenKravets23. We'll have a complete report tonight on 23 News at 5.

ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- Rockford's Police Chief is under oath today about his actions involving a domestic violence call to the president of Rockford's NAACP chapter.

Today we heard for the first time directly from Chief Chet Epperson, that he told NAACP President Lloyd Johnston not to let officers into Johnston's home.

The probable cause hearing into Johnston's actions is still going on right now.

Chief Chet Epperson was on the stand for nearly eight hours and as the day goes on, the exchanges get more tense between the chief and union's attorney Dan Cain.

The hearing is being held by the Rockford Fire and Police Commission. The Union says Epperson violated Department policies and procedures in October 2013 during an incident at Lloyd Johnston's house. On the stand, Epperson admitted he told Johnston not to let officers in the home during a domestic violence call, however, he said he never told the officers to leave. Epperson's attorney, Thomas McGuire argues the chief though cops were at the home for a community care call, where officers would need a warrant to enter the home. They don't need warrants during domestic violence calls.

"If I had to do the same today, I'd do it again. I called for a supervisor to go to the scene, take car of the situation. The officers simply could have kicked in the door that evening, under the circumstances, if they kicked the door open, we wouldn't be here today," said Chief Epperson.

The hearing is till going on and there are still several officers set to testify along with Lloyd Johnston.

Officer Mark Castronovo was the first officer to respond to Johnston's home in October 2013.

Castronovo says when officers asked to enter the home, Johnston called Chief Epperson and says the chief also told officers to leave the scene. Epperson denies that claim. The Union says during that phone call with Johnston, the Chief violated policies and procedures of the department. Epperson's attorneys say he didn't break the rules.

The hearing in front of the Fire and Police Board is similar to a grand jury hearing. Once hearing all the testimony, the board will decide whether to hold an evidentiary hearing, similar to a trial in court. That's when the commission decides whether the chief did break the rules and if he should be disciplined. Epperson is accused of violating department policy and procedure as well as denying that the Fire and Police Commission are the ones who hire and fire the chief.

ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- Rockford Police Chief Chet Epperson is testifying in a hearing involving his role in a police call at the home of Rockford's Former NAACP President.

The Police Union wants the Fire and Police Commission to demote or even dismiss Epperson. The Union Claims Chief Epperson told Lloyd Johnston not to allow officers into his house.

The Officers were called there to check on the status of Johnston's adult son.

Epperson testified he would do the same thing again if in a similar situation.

23 News Weekend Anchor Marissa Lesner is sitting in on the hearing and will have more on 23 News at 5. She is also live tweeting from those proceedings. You can follow Marissa on Twitter @MarissaLesner23.

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