A Chicago man who says he’s a police commissioner for a rural community 75 miles south of the city will not be doing patrolling of any kind while he awaits trial on charges of impersonating a police officer, a Cook County judge ruled Wednesday.
Robert Ellis had initially been allowed to travel to work in Pembroke Township near Kankakee, after he was arrested in March for allegedly flashing his Pembroke Police ID and badge during a traffic stop on the South Side.
But after prosecutors and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart complained about difficulty pinning down where the Pembroke Township Police Department was — and if it exists— Judge Carol Howard ruled that Ellis will remain on electronic monitoring – essentially confined to his home – for the duration of the case.
Howard’s ruling came after a lengthy, rambling hearing at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse, which focused more on the state laws for establishing a police force than on charges facing Ellis, 59.
Sun-Times reporter Frank Main who visited the impoverished community of about 2,000 residents this week was unable to find anyone who lived in the area who had seen any members of the Pembroke Township police force Ellis says he works for.
Lillie Spencer, one of five members of the township board, testified Wednesday that she hadn’t seen the Pembroke officers on patrol, either.
“Are you aware of a police department in Pembroke Township?” Assistant State’s Attorney Amanda Pillsbury asked Spencer.
“No, there is not,” Spencer replied. “There is no police in Pembroke Township.”
Her fellow trustee, Frederick Carter, elaborated that a majority vote of the board in February — apparently with Spencer voting nay — created the Pembroke Township Police Department and appointed Ellis commissioner, as well as naming a chief and deputy chief.
Carter testified that the department had no cars, guns or other equipment — or a budget for any — but Ellis was helping clean up a vacant building that had been the township hall, preparing it for use as offices for the township and a police department.
Pillsbury pointed out that the department needs to meet requirements of the state Law Enforcement Training Act, including performing background checks on Ellis and other sworn personnel.
A background check would have showed Ellis’ two felony convictions for impersonating a police officer, and a 1997 conviction for arson.
“As a trustee of Pembroke Township, did you think it might be important to find out if your police commissioner had felony convictions?” Pillsbury asked.
“It’s important,” Carter said. “But the convictions I heard was based… I don’t know if they was accurate.”
The state agency that certifies training and standards for police departments earlier this year informed township officials that their officers currently could have no traditional police powers. The department’s three officers have yet to make any arrests, are not armed and do not have handcuffs, the supposed chief, Robert Robinson, testified.
The 81-year-old Robinson, who lives in west suburban Maywood, said he was appointed chief of police by the same ordinance that made Ellis commissioner of police. Robinson said he was a sworn member of Maywood’s Park District Police force but could not remember when he was certified as a trained law enforcement officer.
Robinson said that neither he nor Ellis had regular hours at the department, but did not dispute that Ellis may have needed to be free to travel to and from Pembroke Township between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.
Ellis, Robinson said, was helping the township set up a department that one day might have officers with full police powers — though Robinson said he did not closely monitor Ellis’ work.
“Babe,” he replied when Pillsbury asked him what Ellis did for the department. “Let me tell you one thing: I do not know. I do not look over his shoulder.”
Howard did not elaborate on the reasons for rescinding Ellis’ permission to travel to and from Pembroke Township, but she made it clear he was not to do any police work while he’s on bond.
“For the pendency of this case you cannot hold yourself out as a police officer, or go to the Pembroke Township Police Department,” she said.