In the beginning, the rookie cop in far north suburban Round Lake Heights thought that all of the extra attention his older, male, police chief was lavishing upon him was perhaps because the chief was a “super friendly guy.”
But when the extra attention and praise quickly turned into sexually flirtatious texts, invitations to spend the night, unwanted touching, gifts and clandestine photos taken of him, Hossein “Sam” Isbitan, then 30, who is openly gay, said he knew that he had to find a polite way to make his boss, John Roehlk, who is in his 50s, know that he was not interested.
“If it was outside of work I would have ignored it and dealt with it,” Isbitan said. “I just wanted to go there, do my work and leave. I had no interest in him.”
When being polite stopped working and Isbitan had to make it clear he was not interested, he was eventually fired from his job, according to a lawsuit he filed this week in federal court, alleging sexual harassment, wrongful termination, retaliation, battery and emotional distress.
“The police chief wanted a lover, that is why [Isbitan] is no longer working there,” said Thomas Needham, Isbitan’s attorney. “He had a real budding career going there.”
The lawsuit alleges that in the first several weeks after Isbitan, of Burbank, was hired on Nov. 12, 2013, Roehlk asked him to spend the night on several occasions. He complimented Isbitan for looking “sexy,” stated that he was “hot” and asked him to go shopping with him, according to the lawsuit.
At a holiday party, in front of others, Roehlk rubbed Isbitan’s back, shoulders and hugged him. On several occasions, he took pictures of Isbitan when he wasn’t looking and later sent them to him, according to the lawsuit.
On Valentine’s Day, Isbitan went out to his squad car, only to find it had been covered in little foil-heart chocolates taped all over the console and the computer by Roehlk, according to the lawsuit and Isbitan.
Isbitan said he kept all of the texts that Roehlk sent to him and has printed them out. Many of the texts are lewd and many are complimentary of his performance.
Roehlk texted Isbitan a picture of a piece of candy shaped like a heart, which had the words “I F—— LOVE YOU,” on it, according to the lawsuit.In another instance, the police chief made Isbitan a pizza, brought it to work and asked Isbitan to call him “baby,” according to the lawsuit. Isbitan declined.
For months Isbitan tried to handle the situation with Roehlk by himself by politely declining his offers and answering his texts with evasive responses.
Isbitan wasn’t always openly gay. Born in Chicago, he and his family moved back to their native Jerusalem when he was just 9 months old until Isbitan graduated high school in 2001, a place where being gay could have gotten him much worse than harassment or the loss of a job.
Eventually, when Roehlk understood that Isbitan would not comply to his wishes, he sent Isbitan one last text on April 1, 2014: “I’ve tried everything I know to invite you into my personal life. . . . it’s clear you don’t want to be there. So I’ll just stop trying,” according to the lawsuit.
After that, Roehlk began to make Isbitan’s time at work extremely difficult, the lawsuit alleges.
“From April through August I was treated like a piece of garbage,” Isbitan said. “He gave me the silent treatment, he hid behind the building watching me, he stopped allowing me to go to training classes.”
On Aug. 12, 2014, Roehlk called Isbitan into his office and told him he was fired because he was “no longer a fit for the department.”
“I felt awful, I felt destroyed,” Isbitan said.
Since then, Isbitan has applied for dozens of police jobs and gone on many interviews but has not gotten a job because he was fired from his last one, his attorney, Needham, said.
In an email message, Roehlk referred all questions to an attorney, who did not return a phone message for comment.
Round Lake Heights Mayor Terrance Lumpkins said he was aware of the lawsuit but that it was “way too early to comment.” He did, however, add that “there are two sides to every story. We will see how it prevails in court.”
For Isbitan, he said he lost more than a job when he was fired.
“I am a man who came from nothing and had to learn everything on my own,” he said. “This is my career he is messing with – my reputation.”