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Flossmoor cites performance in finalizing police chief firing; some residents express outrage

The Flossmoor Village Board voted Monday to officially terminate police Chief Jerel Jones’ contract following weeks of speculation and discussion among residents and village leaders.

After a long board meeting that included pleas from residents to keep the village’s first Black police chief, the forceful removal of a disruptive audience member and a 90-minute closed door meeting, the trustees reemerged just before 10 p.m. to explain their views and cast their votes.

“This decision has been made after thoughtful review of his performance and it has not been made lightly,” said Mayor Michelle Nelson before casting her tie-breaking vote in favor of the chief’s firing. “I think, in my own opinion, it is best that we part ways, as disappointing as it may be for those of us in this room.”

Rumor that Jones was on the hot seat spread late February culminating in a lively Village Board meeting earlier this month and a lawsuit filed by Jones alleging his firing was triggered after he complained about a “master-slave dynamic” between village manager Bridget Wachtel and himself.

For weeks, none of the trustees publicly discussed the contents of any negative performance review outside of a public letter from Nelson March 7 confirming the intention to part ways with the chief over performance issues.

But shortly before their votes against the firing, trustees Rosalind Mustafa and Joni Bradley-Scott referenced the contents of the performance investigation.

“I have not heard any conversations, have not read anything to indicate that the performance criticisms or his performance rises to the occasion of justifying termination,” Mustafa said. “I don’t see any egregious, unlawful, illegal, inappropriate, unethical behavior — no safety concerns for the community.”

More than 100 residents attended Monday’ meeting, and about a dozen spoke in favor of keeping Jones. The audience groaned when resident Susan Bass stood up in support of the board, citing her having Black friends as evidence for a lack of racism in the village.

Some held signs. Others murmured in agreement as people highlighted Jones’ character. Rabbi Michael Ben Yosef began a chant when resident Ronald Alston referenced Madeline Miller, who was holding a knife and had a history of mental health issues and who was fatally shot by a Flossmoor police officer in 2022.

“Say her name! Say her name!” he shouted. Only a few residents shouted back “Madeline Miller” in response.

As he continued to yell, one officer in the chamber tried to politely escort him out of the room. But Yosef approached the board’s desk, continuing to shout closely in the face of the Village Clerk Gina LoGalbo who ducked out of her chair to avoid him.

“Say her name!” he repeated.

As it became clear he would not leave on his own accord, two more officers rushed in, working to forcefully remove Yosef, essentially carrying him to the lobby. Yosef’s shouting could be heard from outside the chamber for about five minutes while the meeting continued.

In Jones’ lawsuit he accuses the board of racial discrimination. Residents have expressed appreciation over having a Black police chief for a town that is over 60% Black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Both of the votes related to Jones’ termination, including the one on Monday, were split along racial lines with the three Black trustees voting opposite the three white trustees and white mayor. During public comment, dozens of Black residents spoke in support of Jones with some using racially charged words such as “lynching” to describe the firing.

And at Monday’s meeting, yet another racial topic was brought up not only by Yosef but also multiple residents and board members.

“It was to shut us up,” said La’Shawn Littrice when giving her opinion of Jones’ hiring from his post as chief of Macomb in 2023 following Miller’s death. “It was more so like ‘I can’t be accused of being racist of doing racist practices because I just hired a Black chief.’”

When Alston made a similar point in front of the board, Nelson shook her head in disagreement.

Shortly after the trustees went into their closed session, Flossmoor resident and Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx discussed the allegation Jones was hired just to appease the community after the shooting.

“I do believe that the village was reckoning with issues around race and policing due to the killing of Madeline Miller,” Foxx said. “Am I going to say that that’s why he was hired? I certainly hope not. I think that his credentials speak for themselves.”

After the meeting adjourned, Foxx stepped to the desk and had a lengthy conversation directly with Nelson. As Foxx left, she declined to discuss the vote.

Nelson and all of the trustees other than Bradley-Scott declined to answer questions from the Daily Southtown.

Bradley-Scott confirmed Deputy Chief Keith Taylor will be interim chief. Jones’ name has been removed from the village website.

hsanders@chicagotribune.com