Former Des Plaines cop claims racial discrimination by superior

A fired Des Plaines cop hoping to return to his job claims he was discriminated against by one of his superiors, who allegedly physically intimidated him and called him racial slurs in front of his colleagues, documents show.

John Bueno, who was fired in March after being charged with internal misconduct, filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in November, alleging former Deputy Chief Rich Rozkuszka called him “derogatory names related to his Hispanic heritage” like “dirty Mexican,” “Mexican,” and “Puerto Rican,” according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act.

Bueno and officer Andy Contreras were both accused of internal misconduct, though the charge was dropped in April against Contreras. Contreras has been suspended without pay until the end of July, when he is set to return to his job. Officials have declined to say what they allegedly did, but the EEOC complaint shows the alleged incident occurred at least 24 months prior to their suspension in October 2011.

The four-page complaint states Bueno, a 10-year officer, told former Des Plaines Police Chief Jim Prandini about the racial comments, some made in front of other officers, on two separate occasions — once verbally in July 2010 and the other through a written complaint in May 2011.

Despite Prandini assuring Bueno he would look into the matter, Rozkuszka’s “physically aggressive behavior continued,” according to the complaint. Meanwhile, Bueno was pulled off a special detail and lost overtime wages during the alleged harassment and discrimination, documents show.

“At the time of this filing, I am currently on suspension, for what I believe is discrimination based on my race (Hispanic) and retaliation for my oral and written complaints regarding Roszkuska’s (sic) behavior,” Bueno stated in the complaint.

Prandini, who underwent back surgery last year, retired on Jan. 1, 2012, shortly after the complaint was filed. Rozkuszka retired after 29 years last fall.

The city and Bueno will meet with a grievance arbitrator, though a hearing date has not been set, said Acting Police Chief Mike Kozak.

City Manager Mike Bartholomew said the city has responded to the complaint and Human Resources Director Michael Earl is working with legal counsel. Bartholomew declined to elaborate further.

This is not the first time the police department has been hit with a racial discrimination complaint from a Des Plaines police officer, though the charges were withdrawn as part of a monetary settlement.

In October 2010, Sergeant Matthew Hicks, 47, filed charges with the EEOC, claiming he was demoted from commander to sergeant earlier that year, put on administrative leave and then suspended because of his race and disability, according to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act.

At the time, Hicks was embroiled in a disciplinary hearing as former Des Plaines Chief Jim Prandini sought to fire him based on battery and internal misconduct charges, like untruthfulness, insubordination and theft. Hicks was accused of beating a woman and pulling her hair in April 2010 in his Huntley home. The criminal case is still ongoing in McHenry County and an appeal hearing is scheduled on May 25.

In the complaint, Hicks said he complained about a “racially offensive poster of an African American male hanging as a target” in the police department’s shooting range that was used for practice, documents show.

“In good faith, I believe that the presence of such a racially offensive poster in such a way in the work place creates an illegal work environment,” Hicks wrote.

The veteran officer, who began working for the department in September 1982, also alleged in the complaint he was retaliated against after asking for light-duty work in November 2009 due to his disability, though it is not clear what the disability was.

Hicks ultimately withdrew the discrimination charges in 2011 as part of a settlement deal, which also involved the city paying him $125,000. Neither side admitted wrongdoing at the time, though Hicks was also required to file for a non-duty related disability pension and retire on Dec. 20, 2014, which is his 50th birthday, according to the agreement.

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