Lawsuit alleges misconduct at police station

Claims, counterclaims paint racy picture of life at BPD
Marney Simon
Staff writer

Allegations of misconduct and details of alleged interactions among members of the Braidwood police department have provided for a riveting, NSFW lawsuit in federal court.

On July 14, Braidwood’s Deputy Chief of Police Michelle Soucie filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of Braidwood in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. The lawsuit alleges “a continuous stream of negative and sexually suggestive comments on the basis of her sex.”

The lawsuit charges that Soucie, who has been on paid administrative leave from the department since January, was harassed on the job by Police Chief Nick Ficarello.

According to the complaint, Soucie said Ficarello has bragged to her about his sexual conquests, insisted that she drink alcohol with him at inappropriate times, and “wear high heeled shoes to please him.”

“Chief Ficarello’s comments were unwelcome, and they interfered with [Soucie’s] ability to do her job,” the complaint states.

Ficarello categorically denies those claims. The chief said Soucie’s lawsuit is in retaliation for her being placed on administrative leave. The chief also said Soucie was placed on leave pending an internal investigation alleging theft, but would not go into details on that investigation.

But Soucie’s complaint argues that it is the other way around, the investigation into her conduct and her suspension is where the real retaliation lies, after she complained about the chief’s behavior to the mayor.

On Aug. 8, the city of Braidwood responded to Soucie’s claims, with at times sarcastic answers to Soucie’s point-by-point complaint.

For example, point one of the complaint names Soucie, and identifies her as a female resident of Illinois residing in Kankakee County.

The response from the city: “Defendant is without knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the allegations of Paragraph 1.”

The response from the city also contains 13 affirmative defense items, some of which could be described as unsuitable for anyone under the age of 18.

According to one of those affirmative defense claims, the city alleges “any injuries or damages claimed by [Soucie] were caused by her own conduct” and that an investigation into her claims showed that Soucie “welcomed discussions about sex.”

The response then lists examples of Soucie’s alleged behavior during an unspecified time period of her employment that the city refers to as “inappropriate statements/behavior.”

Attorneys for Soucie balked at the claims made by the city in its response.

“The affirmative defenses are baseless, desperate and offensive,” Hall Adams, representing Soucie in the federal lawsuit, wrote in an email to The Braidwood Journal. “Nothing that defendant has alleged justifies or excuses the way she has been treated by her employer.”

The lawsuit alleges that Soucie delivered a letter to mayor Jim Vehrs regarding Ficarello’s behavior in December 2016. The city denied that claim.

Earlier this year, Soucie filed an EEOC complaint against the city, however, that complaint was ultimately dismissed.

Soucie is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages in her lawsuit, alleging that the city has violated the Illinois Human Rights Act, creating a hostile work environment and subjecting her to conditions of employment which differ from male employees. Soucie has also asked for restoration of her career as Deputy Chief, and legal fees.

Within the other affirmative defenses, the city asserts that the federal courts lack jurisdiction in the lawsuit, charging that the city of Braidwood “is not an employer under Title VII insofar as it is not engaged in an industry affecting interstate commerce; and/or [Soucie] is not an employee under the Illinois Human Rights Act insofar as she was appointed under city of Braidwood Code Sec. 50-40.”

Soucie has been a member of the department since 1998, and has been Deputy Chief since 2015.

The next scheduled event for the case is a status hearing, set for Thursday, Aug. 31.