Former Flossmoor police Chief Jerel Jones alleges racial discrimination in firing

Fired Flossmoor police Chief Jerel Jones alleges in a federal lawsuit his recent dismissal was caused by “race-based discriminatory conduct” against him, the “first Black police chief” in village history.

While a Thursday email from Mayor Michelle Nelson said his dismissal was triggered by “administrative lapses,” the suit, filed Monday against the village and its manager, alleges the firing was because Jones complained Oct. 5, 2023, about experiencing “disparate treatment” from village manager Bridgette Wachtel.

The suit claims Wachtel responded to the complaints by beginning a “campaign of retaliation” against Jones, leading to his dismissal.

“Wachtel imposed a master-slave dynamic between her and Jerel and, if he did not fit himself into that expected dynamic, he could not be police chief,” the lawsuit states.

Jones is seeking reinstatement as police chief, back pay, a public apology and for Wachtel and others to attend racial sensitivity training.

But Cass Casper with the Disparti Law Group, representing Jones, said Monday the village can “avert this lawsuit” if leadership just agrees to reinstate Jones and the mayor publicly apologizes.

“Give him a fair chance to be police chief,” Casper said at a news conference.

Attorney Katherine Field Orr, who represents Flossmoor with the firm Ottosen DiNolfo Hasenbalg & Castaldo, Ltd., wrote in an email Tuesday the village denies all allegations of misconduct.

The lawsuit alleges screenshots emailed to Jones from Wachtel express concerns she had about his performance, including the type of major incident forms he provided, his use of his cellphone instead of police radio to communicate with other departments, his inability to “speak plainly,” and an allegation that he did not build solid relationships with peers in other village departments.

The village’s treatment of Jones, the suit argues, defies the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment as well as several circuit court rulings on retaliation and different treatment based on race.

Jones’ lawyers criticized Wachtel’s concerns, labeling them “petty,” “contrary to accepted Police Department practice in modern times” and racially motivated.

Jones came to Flossmoor in March 2023 from the Macomb Police Department,

“Macomb made it very clear that they wanted me to stay and they did not want me to leave,” Jones said Monday when asked if there had been similar allegations of poor performance at his previous role.

Attorney Bob Fioretti with Disparti Law Group also denied allegations that Jones told people to come to his defense at a recent Village Board meeting where his employment status was rumored to be discussed.

In July 2022, a Flossmoor police officer fatally shot a 64-year old woman who they said was holding a knife and in the middle of a mental health crisis. Hazel Crest police Chief Mitchell Davis, a representative with the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement, referenced this shooting Monday, saying Flossmoor hired a Black police chief to quell concerns of racial violence.

“What happens so often is when they bring in these chiefs of color, for some reason, because they don’t operate by the standards that existed, they seem to systematically get rid of them,” Davis said. “This is not uncommon.”

If the village does not meet the demands outlined by Casper, the lawsuit says a jury is demanded to rule on all counts.

hsanders@chicagtribune.com