CARBONDALE -- Former Police Chief Jody O’Guinn believes there was more to his firing than just “confidential issues” as said by the city manger.
O’Guinn was dismissed Monday from his duties as Carbondale Police Chief by City Manager Kevin Baity.
Baity said the decision to dismiss O’Guinn was a confidential matter, and had nothing to do with the unsolved cases or litigation filed against the city or O’Guinn.
The former chief believes otherwise.
“I absolutely believe that plays into this decision,” O’Guinn said during an interview at The Southern on Wednesday. “It may not be the sole factor in his mind, but I think that community pressure with some of the miscommunication that has been put out definitely plays its part.”
O’Guinn said in his “hearts of hearts,” he believes he was a scapegoat. He said his relationship with Baity could have been much better.
“The lack of responsiveness was an issue for me,” O’Guinn said.
He said he never had a performance review from Baity, and he is not receiving a severance package.
O’Guinn said he has not consulted with a lawyer. He is not sure if he will.
“This is an at-will employment state and I have no contract, and I know I can be terminated for any reason -- good or bad -- so that is why I haven’t taken any steps,” he said. “I don’t think it is right, that is why I am speaking up about it.”
He felt the need to speak out because it was implied in the Monday comments by Baity in a news release that O’Guinn had done something illegal.
“That is not the case and I want to make sure everybody knows that,” O’Guinn said. “I want everybody to know I didn’t do anything illegal, unethical or immoral to lose my job.”
Baity had little to say about O'Guinn's allegations Wednesday. He also referred to the situation as a personnel issue, and said he had no further comment.
O’Guinn talked about the families of Molly Young and Pravin Varughese, saying he was instructed by Baity and Jackson County State’s Attorney Michael Carr not to talk to the media about such cases.
“My heart breaks for them because I am a father, too,” he said. “I understand exactly what their frustration level and what their aggravation from lack of response from us is.
“If it is an illegal, unethical or immoral order, than I don’t have to follow that, but any legal order that I am given by my superior, I have to follow that.”
He didn’t feel the order to keep quiet was ethical or moral, but he did feel it was a legal request. He said he felt if he violated the request, he would be terminated.
In March 2012, 21-year-old Molly Young died from a gunshot wound to the head in the Carbondale apartment of her ex-boyfriend, Richie Minton, a Carbondale police dispatcher at the time.
Since her death, there have been questions about whether she was murdered or committed suicide. There have also been questions about the investigation, which led to the 'Justice for Molly' campaign.
A Jackson County Coroner’s jury said it did not have enough evidence after a inquest in January 2013 to rule the Young’s death as an accident, homicide or a suicide.
No charges were ever filed in the case, but the case has been turned over to the Illinois State's Attorneys appellate prosecutor's office.
Larry Young, Molly Young’s father, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Minton.
O’Guinn said the case was taken over by state police and he could not release any of their reports, and the state police were the ones to do so.
Larry Young said although it is unfortunate O’Guinn lost his job, it opens up an opportunity for a new chief to pursue cases.
“This is something that the victim’s families and all of Illinois expect out of an honorable police department,” Larry Young said. “A person doesn’t become a leader by appointment or rank, you become a leader by serving the community with decisions that promote trust and justice for all.”
He said all officers need to see all victims’ families treated with respect, as well as to assure the families and community everything will be done to bring closure to them.
“Sadly, this is something that our family and the Varughese family still haven’t received,” Larry Young said.
On the night of Feb. 12-13, 19-year-old Pravin Varughese went missing. His body was found Feb. 18 in a wooded area off the 1400 block of East Main Street. Carbondale Police said they eventually learned the 19-year-old got a ride that night, apparently being picked up in the 600 block of West College Street.
After an altercation in the vehicle, Varughese reportedly got out and ran into the wooded area off East Main Street.
O’Guinn said once he found out Varughese was missing, the police did everything it could to locate him.
“We had air support, state police airplane, helicopters and 14 canines, along with hundreds of people on foot, searching for him,” he said. “Once we found out, we acted on that as quick as we could, and we were able to locate him,” he said.
Lovely Varughese, the mother of Pravin Varughese, has filed a $5 million lawsuit against the city, the city police department, O'Guinn and others. The suit alleges negligence of special duty and willful and wanton negligence on O'Guinn's part.
“I wish this statement would have come to us six months ago,” Lovely Varughese said of O'Guinn's statement. “This would have made a big difference in our lives.”
Lovely Varughese said she never had a face-to-face meeting or even a phone call with O'Guinn.
“If he feels that he did everything right, I cannot change how he feels,” she said, “I do not have any animosity toward him as a person, only the system.”
In a prepared statement, O'Guinn said the details of the Varughese case were never hidden in an attempt to cover up negligence or malfeasance.
“If it were one of their children, they would have looked that night,” Lovely Varughese said. “They don’t know how much it hurts until it is one of their children.
In June 2011, O'Guinn's Colt .380 pistol was taken from his vehicle. The gun theft wasn't reported until a week later. An investigation found "a simple data entry error" was the reason the stolen-gun report was originally filed as an animal control violation.
O’Guinn said he waited a week to report the missing gun because he wanted to make sure the weapon was actually missing, and not misplaced.
“As soon as I realized I wasn’t going to be able to find it, I reported it,” he said. “That was blown out of proportion as a conspiracy theory that I was trying to the fact my gun was missing.”
The stolen weapon was used in the Sept. 14, 2011, shooting death of 20-year-old Deaunta Spencer in Carbondale.
Matthew J. Jones, 21, of Carbondale was arrested later that day and charged with first-degree murder. He was subsequently sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Another Carbondale man, 19-year-old Jewlious Causey, was arrested Sept. 15, 2011, for possession of the stolen handgun. Causey pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six years in prison.
O’Guinn said he was shocked when he learned his gun was used in the murder.
“It was a very difficult time for me,” he said. “Even though I know I was the victim of a crime, I still felt responsible in some way.”
No one has been charged with the theft of that firearm.
City Council reaction
While O'Guinn has said he believes a lack of communication existed between his office and Baity's, which led to several problems, Acting Mayor Don Monty said he has faith in Baity to select the next chief.
“He is charge of hiring the chief, and I am sure he will put in place a process with consultations with the city council,” Monty said. “But, in the end, it is the city manager's decision to do the hiring and disciplining city employees.
“It is a personnel matter, and I am not going to get into the middle of Mr. O’Guinn and Mr. Baity's back and forth."
Several members of the city council were contacted but declined to comment on the matter, citing it was a personnel issue and they did not feel comfortable commenting.