A Will County grand jury has indicted University Park Golf Club manager Sonia Coffee with felony assault on a police officer in connection with an alleged Dec. 16 attack on police chief Deborah Wilson, the Daily Southtown has learned.
The revelation raises new questions about Mayor Joseph Roudez and his administration and why the much-loved police chief has been on administrative leave since the incident.
“Something is seriously wrong,” said Theo Brooks, a college park administrator and former police officer.
Brooks supported Citizens’ efforts to pursue accountability for the police chief’s suspension and $800,000 in public funds paid to Coffee’s company, CHW Management Group.
Roudez declined to comment on the chief’s suspension and the incidents at the golf club, citing confidentiality over a personnel matter. But public records offer insight and appear to support residents’ concerns about why Roudez’s administration sidelined a popular police chief immediately after she was the victim of an alleged felony assault.
The grand jury returned its two-count indictment against Coffee on Jan. 6, according to a copy of a complaint obtained from the Will County state’s attorney’s office. University Park Police denied a request through the Freedom of Information Act for copies of reports, citing confidentiality.
In addition to the grievous bodily harm charge against a police officer, Coffee faces a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest.
“(Coffee) had physical contact of an insulting or provocative nature with Debbie Wilson, knowing that Debbie Wilson was a peace officer performing official duties, in that said accused pushed Debbie Wilson about her body,” according to the complaint.
Coffee said his lawyer advised him not to comment on the incident.
The grand jury also indicted DeVaughn J. Mathus on identical charges of felony aggravated assault and battery against a police officer and misdemeanor resisting arrest for allegedly shoving Wilson.
Brooks said he thinks the village should publicly release a video recording showing the Dec. 16 altercation that led to the felony charge against Coffee.
“Our police chief went over there for an investigation that got out of hand,” Brooks said. “Council has seen the videotape. It’s very awful. Chief Wilson was indeed beaten. In fact, I’m just embarrassed by the way everything is going.
In a written report given to the University Park Village Board, Coffee wrote that an “unfortunate incident” occurred while the chef was at the club. Wilson was investigating the whereabouts of maintenance equipment allegedly purchased with taxpayer dollars for the public golf course, Brooks said.
Brooks and citizens demanded that Coffee provide receipts and account for money allegedly spent on lawn mowers and other equipment. A majority of the board recently supported Brooks’ motion to withhold more than $50,000 in payments due to Coffee’s management company until it reports to the board.
Brooks and residents questioned why Village Superintendent Ernestine Beck-Fulgham placed Wilson on paid administrative leave on Dec. 16, the day of the incident at the golf club.
A week later, at a special Dec. 23 meeting, a majority of the board voted down Roudez’s attempt to appoint Ed Bradley, a former University Park police chief, to an interim post as chief of police. acting police while Wilson was on leave.
Six days later, on December 29, Wilson filed a discrimination complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights. Wilson is University Park’s first female police chief and the first black female police chief of any community in Will County.
The Daily Southtown obtained a copy of the complaint, in which Wilson alleged she was being retaliated against because she was an eyewitness to another village employee’s sexual harassment complaint against Beck-Fulgham.
“I believe my employer is retaliating against me for reporting these illegal activities or agreeing to be a witness in another employee’s sexual harassment complaint against the manager,” Wilson wrote.
In February, Brooks and trustee Sonia Jenkins-Bell publicly released a letter calling on Beck-Fulgham to resign for awarding more than $54,000 in cash bonuses to 61 employees, including $3,500 for herself, without the knowledge or approval of the village council.
“What makes me even angrier is that Ernestine has still not been supported by the board for the money she took,” Brooks said on Friday. ” This is unheard of. The board should be more upset that Ernestine is taking the money.
Roudez recently told me that the money Beck-Fulgham gives employees in cash bonuses comes from licensing fees.
“Nothing was stolen,” Roudez said. “It’s a violation of policy, nothing criminal. When people commit criminal acts, they don’t go to the bank to get cashier’s checks.”
Roudez told me in late March that he would order Beck-Fulgham to reimburse the village for the $3,500 bounty she had paid herself without authorization. However, Brooks said that hasn’t happened yet.
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Ordering Beck-Fulgham to return his bonus would seem to indicate an admission of wrongdoing. It also begs the question, if the village manager’s bonus was wrong, what about the $50,000 in bonuses paid to 60 other workers? Should they also return taxpayers’ money spent without authorization, or should Beck-Fulgham refund the full $54,000?
Beck-Fulgham did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday. Roudez declined to discuss details of the Beck-Fulgham bonus scandal when we spoke. He defended the funds given to the Coffee company to run the course, saying a former manager had neglected the facility.
“The equipment was 30 years old,” Roudez said. “The material had never been replaced. The place was a complete shambles.
Later, I accepted the village’s invitation to meet Coffee, visit the golf club and listen to Coffee’s explanation of maintenance needs. The tour gave the impression that the village was trying to use a publicity stunt to divert attention from the police chief’s situation, as village officials have been aware since January 6 of the act of charge against Coffee.
The truth will come out, especially if there is video evidence of the alleged assault. The cafe is due back in court in May to answer criminal charges.
Ted Slowik is a columnist for the Daily Southtown.