In the days immediately after his death, mourners remembered Fox Lake Police Lt. Joe Gliniewicz as a gung-ho officer who was devoted to his job and the police youth program he ran.
But the fond — and perhaps burnished — memories of an officer who at first was thought to have been killed in a struggle with a trio of unknown suspects contrast with a personnel file thick with both commendations and complaints.
The portrait of Gliniewicz described by friends and family at his crowded funeral two months ago was all but destroyed last week as authorities revealed that a monthslong investigation found Gliniewicz had staged his death. The straight-arrow officer known as “GI Joe” turned out to be a crooked cop. Investigators said Gliniewicz embezzled thousands of dollars from a police youth program he ran for the department.
Gliniewicz was just weeks from retirement when he killed himself on Sept. 1, but his 30 years on the department were checkered at best, according to nearly 250 pages of records in Gliniewicz’s personnel file as well as records of an internal investigation of claims made by a female Fox Lake officer in a sexual harassment lawsuit.
Village officials did not release the documents to the Chicago Sun-Times until last week at the request of the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force, spokesman David Bayless said.
From his early days in the department in the 1980s, records show Gliniewicz was disciplined for absenteeism and tardiness. As recently as 2009, an anonymous group of officers wrote a lengthy complaint to then-Mayor Cynthia Irwin that made wide-ranging allegations about misconduct by Gliniewicz.
Records show that Gliniewicz was sporadically disciplined, and that he continued to ascend the ranks — with a few knocks backward — despite suspensions for missing work without cause, and even a monthlong furlough for having sexual relations with a subordinate while on duty and on village property.
A tribute to Fox Lake Police Lt. Joe Gliniewicz remained outside an Antioch home on Nov. 4, 2015. |Scott Olson/Getty Images
In 1988, a detective wrote a letter to a supervisor about an incident in which Lake County Sheriff’s officers called him to a stretch of Illinois 59 near Lake Villa, where they had found Gliniewicz passed out behind the wheel of his pickup.
“One of the deputies advised me that he had found the truck in this location with Gliniewicz passed out in the driver’s seat, with the engine running full throttle with his foot on the gas,” Detective James Busch wrote.
The “deputy told me that this was not the first time that something like this has happened,” Busch wrote. Gliniewicz had been a cop in Fox Lake for about two years at the time.
Busch roused Gliniewicz and had the truck towed, then drove Gliniewicz home.
“Upon arrival at work [the next morning] I found a notice on the roll call board where Gliniewicz had reported his truck as stolen,” Busch wrote. He called Gliniewicz. The officer’s answering machine message said he was out looking for his truck.
Confronted by Busch at the station later that day, Gliniewicz said he had downed six beers and several shots at a bar the previous night, and he woke up at home and could not remember what had happened to his truck. His story had a notable flaw: Gliniewicz told Busch that his roommate’s girlfriend had seen the truck parked at Gliniewicz’s home at 4 a.m. Busch had found Gliniewicz passed out at 1 a.m.
Personnel records do not indicate that Gliniewicz was disciplined for the incident, though a later letter in his file said that he went unpunished.
Joe Semasko, who was chief from 1985 to 1989, said Friday he didn’t recall the incident or any problems with Gliniewicz.
“That was 30 years ago, so it’s hard for me to recall. Any recommendations for discipline would have come to me from his supervisors, and they may not have brought them to me,” Semasko said.
Ronald Nagel, the lieutenant to whom Busch addressed his letter, went on to become chief in Fox Lake. Nagel said Friday he could not recall any problems with Gliniewicz, and he said he was shocked by the recent revelations against Gliniewicz.
“I don’t remember ever having any discipline or problems with the guy,” Nagel said.
Records show that Gliniewicz moved up in the ranks, receiving several departmental commendations for his work and his efforts with the department’s Police Explorer post. The program was apparently funded by grants and donations. Several letters in Gliniewicz’s file are from community groups praising the Explorers for work directing traffic and parking at events in Fox Lake and nearby towns. Many letters reference donations made to the group in exchange for their service.
In 2001, Gliniewicz, then a sergeant, was suspended for a total of 30 days after a subordinate, Officer Denise Sharpe, filed a complaint alleging he pressured her into giving him oral sex on multiple occasions. In interviews conducted during an internal investigation of the allegations, and in a lengthy, hand-written letter to the chief, Gliniewicz admitted to having an affair with Sharpe including interludes that occurred on the village firing range and in the village garage while both officers were on duty.
“The sexual relationship between Denise and myself was consensual and un-coerced,” Gliniewicz wrote. “I am ashamed of my actions, and that I allowed it to happen on duty.”
Sharpe did not return a call from the Sun-Times. Her lawsuit was dismissed after her attorney repeatedly failed to show up for hearings.
By 2003, records show Gliniewicz held the rank of commander of supportive services. But under Chief Edward Gerretsen, the position was eliminated and Gliniewicz was demoted back to sergeant after a dispatcher complained about feeling threatened by Gliniewicz, who joked about putting “bullets in [her] chest” and brought guns into the radio room on at least two occasions.
Chief Michael Behan — whose 33 years in the Fox Lake Police overlapped with Gliniewicz’s three decades on the force — took over in 2006. By 2009, Gliniewicz was a lieutenant, and his cozy relationship with the chief was only one of the problems pointed out in a 2009 letter written by an anonymous group of officers to then-Mayor Cynthia Irwin.
Among the transgressions alleged in the letter was a claim that Gliniewicz got a tattoo while on duty using a gift certificate that had been donated to the department and used his patrol car to take his family on vacation. The letter also states that bouncers at several local bars complained that Gliniewicz was a drunken nuisance, and that people being arrested by Fox Lake officers on multiple occasions tried to warn off the arresting officers “because [the arrestees] were personal friends with ‘Joey’ [Lt. Gliniewicz] or ‘Mikey’ [Chief Behan].”
Behan retired from the department in September after he was suspended during an investigation of a physical altercation between a suspect and a Fox Lake officer.
Fox Lake Village Manager Anne Mirran, accompanied by Lake County sheriff’s Detective Chris Covelli, speaks during a news conference Wednesday in Round Lake Beach, confirming that Fox Lake Police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. | Gilbert R. Boucher II/Daily Herald, via AP
According to information released by the Major Crimes Task Force, over the past seven years Gliniewicz stole money from the Police Explorers Post, using the cash for pornography, gym memberships and to dole out loans to friends. According to text messages released by officials, Gliniewicz was aware that his theft was soon to be exposed by an audit commissioned by new Village Administrator Anne Marrin.
On Wednesday, several text messages showed that Gliniewicz was distressed that an audit being performed by Marrin would reveal his embezzlement from the youth group, and he seemed to consider Marrin an enemy. Gliniewicz said he had “MANY SCENARIOS” to get rid of her, from discrediting her by planting evidence to dumping her body in a remote nature area near the Wisconsin and Illinois border.
In what may have been a plan to discredit Marrin, authorities found a small envelope of cocaine in Gliniewicz’s desk after his death, said Detective Christopher Covelli, a Lake County Sheriff’s Office spokesman. The cocaine was in an evidence bag, but it did not have a case number or name on it, so there was no way to identify it as evidence, he said.
Investigators looked into whether Gliniewicz was investigating any drug crimes, but they could not find any unaccounted for cocaine, Covelli said. They even looked into whether there was any unaccounted for cocaine in the whole department, but there was not, he said.
Gliniewicz did not have any illicit drugs in his system at the time of his death, so the theory that he was planning on using the cocaine to “set-up” Marrin was considered, Covelli said.
The Lake County Major Crimes Task Force has completed its work on this case. The financial investigation will now be turned over to the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, Covelli said.
The findings have stunned Fox Lake residents, many of whom lined streets of the village for his funeral and donated money to benefit his family. Semasko, who was chief when Gliniewicz joined the force in 1985, was as shocked as anyone.
“What I said at his funeral, I’ll say again: What I remember about Joe Gliniewicz was a young, good kid who wanted to be a good cop,” Semasko said. “What transpired in 30 years, I have no idea. Who knows why anybody changes like that?”