Denise Duebner remained silent for more than a decade. Part of that was fear. Some of it was embarrassment. She wanted to move on and forget what happened to her in Fox Lake, Illinois. But she never could.
“He took my career,” said Duebner. “He took the way I saw myself. He took a lot.”
In 1998, Duebner was proving herself in the all-male Fox Lake police department. She received dozens of commendations and was being given extra responsibility. She earned recognition after she evacuated a motel as it burned.
“I felt like had some big shoes to fill,” said Duebner who came from a police family. “I got in there with the rest of them. And I got dirty. If we had something going on or we needed to do something I got in there and did it. I think it took a while for them to trust me.”
The other officers began to trust her, she said, and rely on her.
“I think I proved I could handle myself in any situation that came up."
But that confidence disappeared when she said Lt. Joe Gliniewicz set his sights on her.
Duebner worked alongside Gliniewicz in the Fox Lake Law Enforcement Explorer program. He was her mentor, and she felt like they were shaping young minds. They were making a difference. Then everything changed.
She said during her review Gliniewicz told her to order new, tighter uniforms so he could see her backside. On several occasions he summoned her to a location and when she arrived, he was urinating.
“He was like I could have used your help,” she said.
And then things escalated.
“He wanted more than a sergeant, patrol officer relationship,” she said. “He wanted a personal relationship.”
Duebner said she feared for her job and eventually gave in to his demands for sex.
“He’s the kind of person that will make you feel comfortable just enough to intimidate you, just enough to get what he wants.”
Still Duebner continued to run the Fox Lake Law Enforcement Explorer program with Gliniewicz and remained silent about the harassment for months.
“I was trying to raise my children and be a single mom. I’m possibly going to lose my job. How am I going to feed my kids? So it took a while, but I finally said enough.”
So she went to the Chief.
“He should have been terminated and they didn’t terminate him,” she said. “They went after me.”
They let Gliniewicz stay, she said, even after he admitted the sexual relationship.
“It was a good ol’ boys club. If I didn’t play along, then I was not going to stay.”
The Village denied any retaliation, according to court records, but Duebner quickly fell from grace. It was a long fall.
“I was constantly under the scrutiny of the lieutenant, writing me up for everything he could.”
Duebner feared she would be fired. Instead, she quit the job she loved and filed a complaint with the EEOC. She then sued the Village. But she knew she couldn’t stay in the town she had come to call home.
“I was having nightmares,” she said.” I felt unsafe so I decided to sell my house and move on.”
She moved to a small town in Kentucky and became an EMT. She never worked as a police officer again.
“I put everything into that position I had. I just felt like I didn’t have it in me to try again.”
Duebner’s case against the Village was dismissed after her attorney failed to show up for multiple court appearances. She then sued her attorney and won a $1.3 million dollar judgment which she was never able to collect. Her attorney is no longer authorized to practice law. As for Denise, she now runs a lawn service business. But she still misses being a cop.