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Interim chief candidate in North Chicago suing city, mayor

North Chicago Police officer Curtis Brame.

North Chicago Police officer Curtis Brame.

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Rockingham seeks outsider

Mayor Leon Rockingham said he’s still weighing his options, but hinted that he will again appoint an interim police chief from outside the force. He has “reached out” to former Chicago Police Superintendent Terry Hillard, he said.

Rockingham said he was still looking for “an opinion” from the council, “some other choices,” and that he plans to bring his next candidate before the council.

Retired Waukegan Police Lt. Charlie Burleson was put foward as a possible interim at a recent meeting. Burleson, a woman, is an animal rights activist and outspoken critic of the city’s animal control operation.

When her name was raised, the crowd chanted: “Charlie! Charlie! Charlie!”

Ralph Peterson, a crusader against alleged police brutality in the city, said Burleson could be the perfect interim.

“She’s from the outside, she’s highly qualified and she’d be impartial,” Peterson said. “That’s what the citizens of North Chicago are looking for.”

Updated: March 19, 2012 2:00AM

The veteran cop some North Chicago aldermen say should be the city’s next interim police chief is suing his city, his mayor and his boss.

North Chicago Police Lt. Curtis Brame, 53, a 26-year veteran of the department and its most senior ranking officer, alleges in a 2009 complaint that invokes protections under the Illinois Whistleblower Act, that he is the victim of retaliation by Police Chief Mike Newsome.

Newsome has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of investigations into numerous excessive force allegations against the department.

Terence Moran, Brame’s attorney, said his client was abruptly reassigned to third shift after he reported in late 2007 to Mayor Leon Rockingham a suspicion that Newsome was taking automobiles confiscated in drug arrests for his own personal use — even selling some of them.

“He was basically ostracized in the department,” Moran said of Brame. “Newsome made it clear in a staff meeting that (he knew) someone was making allegations and there were going to be some changes made.”

Moran said Newsome’s testimony that the shift change was planned well in advance was contradicted by one of his top aides. Rockingham said an internal investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing by Newsome.

“We did a full investigation of every vehicle impounded by police,” he said, noting that the Investigations Department had held on to some vehicles and repainted them to use as undercover cars. Moran countered that “nobody could locate paperwork” that would have shown whether the department had taken ownership of the vehicles or what happened to them.

Brame, who was promoted to lieutenant in 1999 and rose through the ranks to deputy chief before Newsome was named the city’s top cop by Rockingham in 2005, was placed back on first shift a year ago. He now works as commander of Support Services in charge of records.

He recently won an appeal of a previous decision to dismiss the lawsuit after the city argued that whistleblower protections do not apply to people reporting suspected criminal activity to their own employer. The state Appellate Court sent the case back to Lake County Circuit Court, where it awaits trial.

The suit is no secret to the four aldermen who last week pressed Rockingham to appoint Brame as interim chief after the sudden departure of another interim.

“He followed protocol,” 3rd Ward Ald. Valerie DeVost said of Brame. “He did everything he was supposed to do as an officer. His leadership skills are there. I believe he’s the one who can move the department forward.”

Rockingham disagrees.

“It would be difficult for me to try to bring Brame in knowing that he is suing the city,” Rockingham said. “We’ve spent a lot of taxpayer dollars to defend this suit.”

The now four-year-old accusations against Newsome were discussed at a council meeting on Dec. 5 in which Rockingham repeated what has become his mantra of late: “If there are officers doing wrong, we will get rid of them.”

Second Ward Ald. Bonny Mayfield said she supports Brame’s appointment because of, rather than in spite of, his lawsuit.

“My feeling on Curtis Brame is he’s always been a person who would do what was right, even if it meant putting his own career in jeopardy,” Mayfield said. “That makes him a strong candidate. I don’t know if I would have the courage to do that.”

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