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Report: Brass targets critic

January 6, 2019

KANKAKEE — Two Kankakee police officers reported that a top official in the department requested an investigation into a social media critic of the city administration, according to the state police.

The state police launched an inquiry in August after the Daily Journal reported that then-Police Chief Price Dumas used the state’s criminal database to search the backgrounds of two critics of Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong.

But the state police investigation also indicated another official was involved in such efforts — Deputy Chief Willie Hunt. He became acting chief in mid-August when Dumas resigned, about three weeks after the newspaper’s report.

In an interview with state police investigators, Officer Lacie Zingre said in the fall of 2017 another city officer, Tom Ritter, told her Hunt asked him to investigate a Facebook account that was posting criticism of the Kankakee city administration, according to a state police report.

Hunt reportedly asked Ritter to install trackers on the account to see who it belonged to, the report said. Zingre advised Ritter against doing so, but he went ahead and helped Hunt.

In an interview a day after Zingre’s, Ritter told investigators Hunt had asked him on Dec. 9, 2017, to track a Facebook account. The officer said he would see what he could do.

The next day, Ritter texted Hunt that the account had been deactivated and would need to be reactivated before he could get more information about it.

According to the report, Hunt responded, “Thanks, I would appreciate if you didn’t mention this to anyone. This has become a very serious issue that has caught the attention of some elected officials. We hope we can resolve this issue.”

“My mouth is shut, sir,” Ritter replied.

Hunt then said the person behind the Facebook account was leaking department information.

“It’s a disgruntled employee and someone that does not like (an officer in the department),” the deputy chief said, according to the report.

‘WE DISAGREE WITH THAT’

In late December 2017 or early January 2018, Hunt called Ritter into Dumas’ office.

“Once inside the office, they asked him to relax and engaged in small talk,” the state police report read. “Chief Dumas asked him how long he was planning on staying with the Kankakee Police Department, and Ritter responded that he always keeps the door to opportunity open.”

Dumas then slid a piece of paper that had a person’s name, which was blacked out in the state police report. The chief asked Ritter whether he was aware of the name and told him the person’s account was putting out confidential information.

The chief asked Ritter to determine whether the person in question was using the department’s Wi-Fi. Ritter replied the account still was deactivated, so he was unable to track it.

State police investigators informed Ritter that they had received information that he had installed trackers and keystroke loggers on officers’ electronic devices, according to the report. Ritter denied that he had and that the information was the result of “rumors that had gotten started and grown.”

On Feb. 18, Kris Lombardi, the police department’s union representative, asked Ritter to write a statement detailing what Hunt had asked him to do, the state police report said. Ritter asked Hunt whether he should write a statement and that he was told not to do so, the report said. Ritter was not contacted by Lombardi after that.

In an interview, Lombardi said his union was concerned about department officials tracking officers’ devices.

“We disagree with that,” he said. “We want to make sure officers’ rights aren’t violated. There are legal procedures to be followed before you put trackers on people’s phones.”

The Daily Journal obtained the state police report through an open records request. The documents contained no interview with Hunt. It’s unclear whether the investigation remains open.

‘I’M BUSY NOW’

Hunt and Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong didn’t return numerous messages for comment.

Contacted this week, Dumas said, “I’m busy now. Don’t call this number again.”

In July, Dumas cut short a face-to-face interview with a reporter about the controversy after only a few minutes, repeatedly saying, “We’re done.” The reporter was escorted out.

The newspaper’s story was based on a state record that showed Dumas had investigated two critics of the mayor through the state’s criminal database, which can only be used for legitimate law enforcement purposes.

In the brief interview, Dumas said he investigated one of the critics because the man had posted a photo of Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong’s city vehicle parked at City Hall. The man had criticized Wells-Armstrong for upgrading her city car. Dumas said he wanted to protect the mayor’s safety.

Dumas said he couldn’t remember why he investigated the other mayoral critic.

He gave similar information to state police investigators.

In the report, state police found that Dumas had used the state database more than 100 times. Dumas said he only used it himself twice — for the two people in question. He said all the others were run in his name by three employees in the records department. Records employees later confirmed that.

State police officials, including investigator Brad Cosgrove, who wrote the report, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Ritter and Zingre also couldn’t be reached for comment.

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