Former NIU police chief sues university, officials over firing

By Jonathan Bilyk | Feb 21, 2014


The former police chief at Northern Illinois University (NIU) has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the university, claiming he was wrongfully fired last year, never given a fair hearing and treated more harshly than white employees who were actually charged with crimes and other violations.

Donald Grady, who is black, brought the action in Chicago’s federal against NIU and several individual NIU officials, including former NIU President John G. Peters, on Wednesday, one year to the day after he was terminated as chief of police and public safety for the university in DeKalb.

The suit also names NIU Vice President for Public Safety and Community Relations F. William Nicklas, NIU’s General Counsel Jerry D. Blakemore, the NIU Board of Trustees and several university officials who served on a committee that reviewed and denied Grady’s grievance claims following his firing.

Grady is being represented in the matter by attorneys Randall B. Gold and Michael R. Fox of Fox & Fox S.C. in Chicago.

In the complaint, Grady asks the court to order the university to reinstate him as police chief, award him back pay and grant him a written, public apology for firing him and publicly, repeatedly casting aspersions upon his integrity and professionalism. He also requests unspecified punitive damages.

The complaint centers on allegations made by university administrators against Grady to justify NIU’s decision to fire the former police chief.

Grady was police chief at NIU for more than a decade, serving most recently under a four-year contract approved by the university in 2008 and renewed in 2010. Grady’s service at the university included handling the response to the Feb. 14, 2008 shootings at NIU, in which five students were killed and dozens more injured.

However, in 2011 and 2012, Grady and his department came under scrutiny from university officials and other law enforcement agencies for how they handled investigations into rape charges against one of its officers and allegations that certain university employees had sold scrap metal belonging to the university and then deposited the proceeds into a separate bank account – called the “Coffee Fund” - for personal use.

In the rape investigation, statements from two other female NIU students claiming that the sexual contact between the police officer and his accuser was entirely consensual were discovered to have been improperly placed into the officer’s personnel file, rather than into the official case file.

Grady maintained that had been done by a lieutenant, contrary to his direction and without his knowledge, the suit states.

University officials, however, said Grady needed to be held responsible for the potentially criminal misstep.

In the complaint, Grady contends he was never given an opportunity to defend himself against the allegations, but was simply relieved of his command and fired, in violation of his due process rights.

Likewise, Grady claims university officials mistreated him and retaliated against him for turning over documents related to the Coffee Fund investigation to the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s office, resisting purported attempts by university administrators to control that investigation.

While several other NIU employees were later charged in connection with the Coffee Fund scandal, those employees, who were all white, were allowed to keep their jobs or retire and collect benefits, the suit states, noting that Grady, an African-American, was terminated without recourse and without having ever seen evidence from NIU administration.

Grady asserts that public statements made by university administrators following his termination have destroyed his public reputation and made him “unemployable” in law enforcement.

His suit, which demands a jury trial, includes counts for racial discrimination, retaliation and violations of due process rights.

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