One night in March 2011, a male Forest Park cop took a 19-year-old female police department intern bar-hopping, bought her alcohol and had sex with her in the front seat of a squad car, court records and interviews show.
The cop said the sex was consensual. The woman sued the village, accusing the married officer of raping her while she was all but unconscious.
Forest Park’s municipal government settled the case last year, paying the woman nearly $650,000 and admitting no wrongdoing. The officer, Young Lee, remains on the west suburban force and wasn’t charged with any crime.
But a Better Government Association review of the case found irregularities with how police and prosecutors handled the allegations — raising questions about whether they took the woman’s claims seriously enough or showed Lee favoritism.
Among the BGA findings:
- Forest Park police handled the rape allegations internally, failing to bring in an outside law enforcement agency such as the Illinois State Police to investigate — as is common practice in Chicago suburbs and recommended by experts. An outside agency is thought to be more objective — less apt to show favoritism to the officer and less likely to allow fears over a costly lawsuit to cloud the facts. In this instance, Forest Park hired a private investigator to vet the rape claims, which he didn’t find credible. The chief said he didn’t ask the State Police to get involved because the alleged assault occurred in Summit, outside his jurisdiction.
- At least initially, Forest Park didn’t notify prosecutors. Sally Daly, a spokeswoman for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, said the agency found out about the alleged assault from the woman’s lawyer. While prosecutors later interviewed the alleged victim, they didn’t interview Lee. But Daly indicated that the agency’s decision not to criminally charge Lee with sexual assault followed an investigation that included a review of the private investigator’s findings. She declined to say whether her office ever considered other charges against Lee — such as providing alcohol to someone below the legal drinking age of 21. Either way, Lee faced no other charges.
- Although Lee allegedly violated internal policies if not laws, the village did not try to fire him — and portrayed Lee as a victim of sorts. He had to pay $4,000 toward the lawsuit settlement and was suspended without pay for 30 days. But officials let him use 15 vacation days to cover half the suspension.
Forest Park officials came to his defense, with Police Chief James Ryan saying Lee was “obviously set up” by the woman, and Mayor Anthony Calderone telling a reporter that Lee was “seduced” by the woman and “beyond the ability to reject it.”
Lee, who made $115,573 last year, didn’t return messages. He has an otherwise clean personnel record.
The woman, identified as “Jane Doe” in court filings, declined to be interviewed for this story but through her attorney says, “I do not feel that justice was served. . . . If [Lee] wasn’t an officer I believe he would have been . . . punished more severely.”
Daly said prosecutors “declined to file charges in this case as there was not sufficient evidence available to pursue a criminal charge.” She said the allegations were “thoroughly” investigated.
There’s a history of misconduct allegations in Forest Park, with another officer accused — wrongly, he has said — of rape in 2007 but not charged or fired.
“There have definitely been instances,” Calderone says. But “I don’t feel the police department is out of control.”
The intern at the center of Lee’s case was hired in February 2011, according to court records and interviews. Then 19, she contemplated a law-enforcement career.
She worked with Lee, helping with compliance checks at liquor stores to see if they were selling alcohol to minors.
The woman thought she was going to be helping in that manner the night of March 30, 2011, court records show.
Instead, at Lee’s invitation, the woman drove them in her Jeep after work to a bar in nearby Berwyn, according to records.
Lee, now 46, bought her two apple-flavored martinis and two Peroni beers for himself, according to records.
Later, they returned her Jeep to the police station and picked up an unmarked Isuzu Trooper belonging to the department, records show. Lee drove them to a different Berwyn bar — court filings show the woman wasn’t asked to show ID. Lee indicated in a deposition he knew the bartender.
Lee bought them each a shot and at least one more drink before they left around midnight to get something to eat at a Summit restaurant, records show.
Overall, the woman may have consumed nine or more ounces of hard liquor that night, records show. A conservative analysis shows her blood-alcohol level could have been 0.18 percent, more than twice the legal limit to drive.
‘Too out of it’
In Lee’s version, taken from court filings, the woman behaved provocatively on the way to the restaurant. After Lee parked the SUV, she briefly performed oral sex on him, then pulled him on top of her, initiating intercourse, according to Lee’s deposition in the woman’s lawsuit.
The woman denies kissing Lee or coming on to him and says she was nearly unconscious after drinking too much, according to her deposition. Lee had sex with her in the front seat because, as she recalled in the deposition, he later told her she was “too out of it” to move to the back seat.
Joanne Archambault of End Violence Against Women International was briefed on the case by the BGA. She says, “The investigation should’ve focused on incapacitation, not consent. You can’t have sex with someone who is incapacitated because they can’t consent.”
A week later, the alleged victim told Forest Park police that Lee had raped her. She waited to come forward because she was “scared,” court records show.
“As soon as that young woman came forward, it should’ve immediately gone to a criminal investigation,” says ex-Portland, Ore., Police Chief Penny Harrington of the National Center for Women and Policing. “And the criminal investigator should’ve had experience with sexual assault investigations.”
When a different Forest Park police officer was accused of rape in 2007, the village alerted State Police, prompting a criminal investigation. Cook County prosecutors didn’t criminally charge the officer in that instance because of “insufficient evidence,” records show.
Ryan says he called State Police in 2007 because the alleged assault occurred in town. In the intern’s case, the incident happened in Summit, outside his jurisdiction.
Ryan notified Les Peterson, then Summit’s police chief, but Ryan says in court filings that Peterson told him Summit wouldn’t investigate unless the intern personally filed a complaint. Ryan says Peterson told him “they have enough work there as it is.”
Peterson denies that account, saying Ryan told him State Police were already involved. “I told him if he needed anything to contact us immediately and we will investigate,” Peterson says, adding he never heard back.
Ryan also said he told the alleged victim she could file a police report in Summit, but she never did. The woman indicated in court records that she didn’t believe she needed to file a report with Summit because she had already reported it to law enforcement.
Forest Park hired a private investigator, retired State Police Lt. Col. Robert Johnson, to review the intern’s allegations.
Johnson concluded the intern’s complaint was unfounded in part because of “serious concerns about [her] credibility and the motivation for her allegations.”
Helping Johnson reach that conclusion were two other Forest Park officers. After learning of the intern’s allegation, they reported that while off-duty they saw the intern at a bar weeks before the alleged assault. She had been drinking, they said, and told one of the officers she wanted to sleep with him.
The woman rejected that account.
But what appears beyond dispute is that Lee got the intern into bars and bought her drinks even though she was under the legal drinking age — which could have brought criminal charges such as contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He also was driving a police vehicle after drinking alcohol.
Johnson recommended a 30-day suspension but said if Lee “fails to accept responsibility, then the chief should seek termination.”
So why did Forest Park pay so much to settle the woman’s lawsuit?
The $650,000 settlement was a fiscal decision aimed at staving off a costly legal fight, Calderone says.
“To this day I don’t believe a crime occurred,” he says. “There was poor judgment. But crime and poor judgment are two different things.”
This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Andrew Schroedter and Robert Herguth. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (312) 821-9030.