The Illinois Supreme Court ruled that officers who were suspended while undergoing disciplinary proceedings can sue the Cook County Sheriff’s Office for backpay lost during their suspensions.
In the 4-3 decision on Thursday, the state’s high court upheld an appeals court’s ruling allowing officers to sue Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s office over the legitimacy of the merit board before the decisions in their disciplinary cases were made. The merit board investigates disciplinary matters involving police officers.
The court also determined that the officers can resume their lawsuit seeking repayment for lost wages during their suspensions, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
“Today, Tom Dart is being told in crystal clear language that the officers are entitled to due process and entitled to their backpay,” attorney for the officers, Chris Cooper, said of the ruling.
Meanwhile, the sheriff’s office raised concerns regarding the decision, noting that it will stall disciplinary action against an officer for misconduct and make it harder to fire bad officers.
“Today’s Illinois Supreme Court decision is a catastrophic blow to law enforcement accountability,” sheriff’s office spokesman Matthew Walberg said in a statement. “The decision rewards employees who engaged in criminal, unethical and despicable conduct at the expense of Illinois taxpayers.”
The officers’ lawsuit will proceed in circuit court, where a judge will determine whether the case can be granted class-action status. If it does, that would allow for hundreds of officers to join the lawsuit and collect millions in backpay lost during their suspensions.