Sheriff's deputy allowed Waukegan police official to call for ride after traffic stop, video shows


The Waukegan Police Department and the Lake County Sheriff's Office are conducting internal investigations into a months-old traffic stop in which a deputy detained a Waukegan deputy police chief for allegedly speeding and weaving and allowed him to call for a ride home, the News-Sun has learned.

Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran said he authorized the internal investigation after a subordinate brought the stop to his attention. Curran declined to comment on the traffic stop itself.

"Simply put, anybody from our office that might be involved in an investigation of this nature, even though it's not criminal, they're still entitled to due process," Curran said. "It would be wrong to do that, so we're not going to comment on the merits of the investigation or anything else."

Waukegan Police Chief Wayne Walles also declined to comment on the particulars of the traffic stop, but said the investigation is focused on the decision-making and actions of Waukegan Deputy Chief Gabe Guzman, not the sheriff's deputy's actions.

Guzman was stopped on Aug. 19 by Lake County Sheriff's Deputy Jason Plichta on Old Grand Avenue in Gurnee, according to dash and body camera video footage the Lake County News-Sun obtained in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Plichta informed Guzman that he was driving 64 mph on Route 21 after he turned off Washington Street and said he was "going back and forth" while driving, according to the footage. Plichta said he was "making sure there's no medical issues, anything like that going on tonight." In the video, Guzman said he had recently left the Grayslake Days festival.

As Guzman looked for his driver's license, he told Plichta that he was with the Waukegan Police Department, the video shows. Plichta subsequently asked Guzman what he did for the Waukegan police and Guzman responded that he's "a cop," the video shows.

At that point, Plichta said to Guzman, "So I'll ask you honestly: Do you feel you should be driving? Or are we going to call you a ride tonight?" according to the video.

Guzman replied, "You can call me a ride if you want," the video shows.

Plichta tells Guzman to call someone and Guzman said he was calling his daughter, who later arrived to pick him up, according to the footage. At one point during the stop, other Lake County Sheriff's Office deputies came to the scene, the video shows. Guzman's daughter was allowed to leave his car in a nearby parking lot, the video shows.

Guzman was not charged with any wrongdoing, police said.

Because Guzman was not criminally charged, he has not been placed on leave, Walles said.

Curran said Jon Petrillo, the sheriff's office's chief of law enforcement and community services, brought the stop to his attention.

Petrillo said it's not unusual for supervisors to flag traffic stops or other calls for those higher up the chain of command, in particular if the situation involved members of other police departments.

"As a matter of the integrity of the way we carry ourselves, upon hearing this, I was advised of what action was done and I made sure the other police department was notified so if they chose to look into the matter and ask how their employee was carrying themselves off duty, they could do so," Petrillo said.

While Walles said Guzman notified him of the stop that night, the investigation started more recently as a result of other internal investigations involving different Waukegan officers, Walles said in an interview Friday. He said he decided that this incident should be reviewed as well.

The Lake County News-Sun also has submitted a Freedom of Information Act request regarding those investigations.

Walles declined to provide more specifics on when the internal investigation was started, but said he expects the investigation to be completed within about a week and a half.

Lake County's investigation is also "close to completion" said James Elliot, the director of the Lake County Sheriff's Office of Professional Standards, who is handling it.

After reviewing the stop, Elliot said he decided to investigate further to determine whether the department's policies and procedures were followed. The length of each investigation varies depending on the circumstances, Elliot's other caseload and what cases have been prioritized, he said.

While Elliot declined to comment on the case, he said in general, officers have "a lot of discretion" in how they conduct traffic stops.

The sheriff's office prohibits deputies from treating people differently based on their occupation, religion or race.

"We expect everyone to be treated the same," Elliot said.

Deputies can allow someone to get picked up by another person if the driver is tired or has a medical issue, Elliot said. Such a situation doesn't necessarily mean the driver has done anything illegal.

The Waukegan Police Department does not have a policy requiring officers to identify themselves when stopped but also has no policy discouraging it either, Walles said.

"One of the greatest tools an officer has is discretion and there is no mandate on how they apply it," Walles said.

When a woman who was identified in the video as Guzman's daughter arrived at the scene, she moved the vehicle he was driving into the parking lot of a nearby business, the footage shows. Plichta told her they could leave the car there temporarily and he told Guzman that they've notified Gurnee police about the vehicle.

"Don't worry about embarrassment," Plichta could be heard telling Guzman. "Whatever. We're not ... We're going to let Gurnee know the car is going to be here for a little bit. It shouldn't be an issue, but ... I'm not telling anyone."

Guzman responded that he already called his chief, the video shows.

"OK. I'm not going to – Whatever. It is what it is. I'm not going to give a speech, just as long as no one got hurt," Plichta said.

Guzman apologized twice as Plichta wrapped up the stop and made sure Guzman had no questions, according to the video.

Guzman declined comment in an email, saying he was "unable to provide a comment at this time." Plichta did not respond to messages left at his work and home.

Guzman joined the Waukegan Police Department in February 1993 as one of six new officers, whose ranks also included current Police Chief Wayne Walles, according to city records.

He was promoted to deputy police chief on Aug. 4, 15 days before the traffic stop, from a police sergeant, according to city records. The position carries a salary of about $126,000.

Curran said he could not comment on whether the traffic stop was a case of an officer receiving preferential treatment, but said that had been a significant issue for the sheriff's office in the past.

Curran, who was elected to office in 2006 after working as a county, state and federal prosecutor, was brought in to address that culture, he said. His approach was to bring in outsiders who shared his worldview and who would hold officers accountable.

One of those outsiders was Elliot, who came from Evanston where he led that department's office of professional standards, he said. Elliot was hired in June 2015 to lead the sheriff's office's newly formed Office of Professional Standards, according to a news release from the time.

"What we as a command staff are not going to do is micromanage our patrol staff," Curran said. "It's not just right. They have discretion. … Nobody wants to work in an environment where your bosses are breathing down your neck all the time. It shows a complete lack of trust of the people that sit up high for the people that are out doing the tough job of patrolling the streets."

[email protected]


Copyright © 2017, Lake County News-Sun
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