Mount Sterling, IL – The mayor of Mt. Sterling on Monday ordered the police chief to fire five officers because he thinks the police have been arresting too many people for driving under the influence, and the police chief is pushing back.
Mt. Sterling Police Chief Brandon Norris told Blue Lives Matter that Mayor Matt Bradbury was “overstepping his boundaries because he was upset about a proactive police officer for giving DUIs.”
“The mayor is stuck in the school of thought that we should still give people rides home when we find them drunk," Chief Norris said. "He thinks we shouldn’t give a DUI unless they pile up a vehicle or end up in a ditch.”
“I’ve explained we can’t do that anymore… if we cut them loose and 20 minutes later they get in a car and kill somebody, who is going to be liable?" the chief explained. "It’s going to be me and my department and the officer who had contact with the individual. We can’t just let DUIs go.”
The chief said he had a meeting with Bradbury at 8 am on Monday morning, during which the mayor told Chief Norris the city of Mt. Sterling would not be continuing its 24-hour police coverage.
The mayor ordered Chief Norris to ask for the resignations of one full time police officer, and four additional part time officers.
“Once he told me what his plan was, he told me that if I didn’t carry out his instructions that he would also be asking for my resignation,” Chief Norris told Blue Lives Matter.
But he didn’t follow Bradbury’s orders, and refused to ask for the letters of resignation. He said he sent a letter to the council that explained his position.
“I refused to carry out the order, which I felt was unlawful, on the mayor’s behalf,” the chief said, and vowed to “stand with my officer.”
So the city terminated the employment of 25-year-old Officer Nathan Rauch, along with the four part-time officers, on Tuesday without assistance from the chief
Officer Rauch joined the Mt. Sterling Police Department a year-and-a-half ago from the Astoria police, and has been a true asset to his new department, Chief Norris said.
“Since January 1st, my officer has had seven DUIs with the lowest BAC being a .128 and highest being a .229 BAC,” he said. “One of the individuals had two minor children in the backseat at the time of the arrest.”
“In addition to seven DUIs– Officer Rauch also made two methamphetamine arrests, a possession with stolen firearm with the serial number defaced, two arrests for cannabis, four for drug paraphernalia, five warrant arrests, three suspended drivers, and one revoked driver,” Chief Norris said.
He said Officer Rauch had taken a loaded 9mm handgun off the street, too, after he’d found it in the waistband of a suspect during one of the methamphetamine arrests that was based off a traffic stop.
“Honestly, he is a valuable asset and that’s what my letter to the council stated. I stand behind him because he’s an asset to the department and I’m not going to let him get railroaded this way because somebody thinks he‘s being too proactive,” Chief Norris told Blue Lives Matter.
There hasn’t always been consternation between Bradbury and the chief of police. Chief Norris, who has been the head of the Mt. Sterling Police Department for three years, said that everything was fine for the first eight months after the mayor took office.
“We had a good relationship up until the DUI where his friend got arrested. And then some other people got arrested that were friends of his at an establishment he frequents, and that’s when it got out of control,” the police chief explained.
A source from the Brown County Sheriff’s Office told Blue Lives Matter that a friend of Bradbury’s was arrested for DUI in late January.
Bradbury showed up at the sheriff’s office to bond out a friend he knew from his motorcycle club in what appeared to be a very official capacity, according to the source.
“We have a secure facility with a lobby in the front. They come in through the front and pass [money] through the glass to bond somebody out,” the source explained. “The day that the mayor came in, he came directly into the secure portion of the facility, and identified himself as the mayor, and asked for the person he was there to bond out.”
His friend had been arrested for DUI with a blood alcohol that was over twice the legal limit, the sheriff’s office source said.
Officer Rauch was present as backup for a Brown County deputy during the DUI stop, but he did not make the arrest.
In February, Bradbury met with Chief Norris and told the chief he’d been getting feedback from his friends that some Mt. Sterling officers were being too aggressive with DUI arrests..
“We met two months ago and he expressed his concern and said we needed to put the brakes on the DUI arrests. A month later, we had a more spirited conversation about it outside the police department one day, and he left the conversation upset,” the chief said.
“Then I get called in at 8 am Monday morning and am told this is how it’s going to be,” he said, sounding frustrated. “I’m not going to comply with that. We’re going to fight this. I’m not going to back down.”
Chief Norris said Officer Rauch planned to appeal his termination, and ask for a special city council hearing to be held before the next regularly-scheduled meeting on May 21. If would be difficult for the young officer to go without a paycheck in limbo for that long, he said.
He said that at the meeting, the mayor will have to explain to the city’s aldermen why he terminated Officer Rauch, and the officer would have an opportunity to present his side.
A majority vote of the council would either confirm or override Bradbury’s decision, Chief Norris said.
He said he intended to support Office Rauch’s appeal to the council.
“Not only has the amount of intoxicated driving been reduced, we’re not seeing as many vehicle thefts or as much vandalism,” the chief said. “We aren’t seeing as much of that because they know that if they’re out after dark and Officer Rauch is working, he’s going to be there checking them out.”
The Brown County State’s Attorney, Mark Vincent, said that DUI arrests were higher in the county so far for 2018. He said 17 DUI arrests have been filed with the county clerk’s office.
“I think we had 17 in all of last year so we’re quite ahead of the pace traditionally,” Vincent told Blue Lives Matter. “All I can say is that the arrests that have been made were all pretty strong, decent cases.”
“If the people don’t like the aggressiveness of the policing – that’s more of a policy matter. The police, the city administration, the mayor – they need to agree on that. And clearly there is a disagreement on that. But I can’t fault the arrests," he said.
This isn’t the first time Bradbury has attempted to rule Mt. Sterling with an iron fist.
Law enforcement sources told Blue Lives Matter that Bradbury submitted his resignation during that administration amidst allegations of misconduct.
Blue Lives Matter reached out to Bradbury for comment but did not receive a response.
"I'm not saying it is and I'm not saying it isn't," the mayor replied. "I'll have no further comment.”