| FRIDAY, APR 27, 2012
UPDATE: Really Bad Judgment DuPage County Board members rip sheriff for letting teenage son play cop, go on ride-alongs with on-duty deputies.
To become a DuPage County sheriff’s deputy, applicants must be at least 21 and have two or more years of college credit.
But those qualifications apparently don’t matter, provided you’re a son of the western suburbs’ top law enforcement official.
A Better Government Association/CBS2 investigation found that Patrick Zaruba, the teenage son of DuPage County Sheriff John Zaruba, was allowed to go on numerous patrols with on-duty sheriff’s officers in recent years, dress like a cop, and participate in car and foot chases and, possibly, arrests.
Not only was the sheriff aware of his son’s activities, the sheriff was present on occasion, including an instance where the Zarubas stood side by side as the sheriff tried to enter a home to look for a suspect, a source told the BGA. Patrick Zaruba was 18 at the time, and a senior at Wheaton Warrenville South High School.
Many police agencies have “ride-along” programs – in which members of the media, aspiring cops and other interested parties can tag along with on-duty officers to get a feel for real-life law enforcement.
But experts consulted by the BGA were stunned that the sheriff allowed a youthful observer to have a hand in actual police work. Not only does that create huge insurance and departmental liability concerns – what if the ride-along participant slipped and broke a bone, or injured a suspect? – it has the potential to put officers in jeopardy and ultimately poison a prosecution, they said.
“There’s a role for citizens to play in law enforcement,” said Dave Bradford, executive director of Northwestern University’s Center for Public Safety, a national traffic safety and police-training institute. “But that role doesn’t extend to taking part in routine enforcement action.”
John Zaruba wouldn’t talk to the BGA but, in a statement relayed by an assistant, the sheriff confirmed that his son – now 19 and a freshman at Illinois State University – indeed went on ride-alongs, including one on April 23, 2011, that culminated with Patrick Zaruba darting from a squad car and chasing a fleeing suspect on foot.
That incident was captured on a squad-car camera, and the BGA recently obtained the video.
John Zaruba’s statement indicated that his son, an Explorer scout for several years, “responded in an appropriate way. The incident resulted in criminal charges that were filed in court.”
But told about the incident by the BGA, one legal expert questioned if this type of conduct was appropriate.
“This sounds like impersonating a police officer,” said Albert Alschuler, a professor emeritus of law and criminology at University of Chicago who isn’t involved in the Zaruba matter.
Here’s how that case unfolded, according to public documents and sources:
A sheriff’s officer, Sgt. Richard Rushing, was driving a squad car in the Woodridge area, with then-18-year-old Patrick Zaruba as a ride-along participant. They noticed a white Ford Tempo driving west in the eastbound lanes of 75th Street, and tried to pull it over.
The driver kept going, pulled into a parking lot of a strip mall and fled on foot.
The squad pulled up and Patrick Zaruba took off running after the suspect, who got away.
Police, however, soon figured out the name of the 18-year-old driver – Kevyn Cartwright – and later showed up at his Woodridge home looking to arrest him.
Cartwright’s father Carl told the BGA the sheriff, his son Patrick and other deputies showed up “all in uniform.”
“This guy jumps out of the driver’s seat and says ‘I’m Sheriff John Zaruba. You can’t run from the DuPage sheriffs,’” Carl Cartwright recalled.
The sheriff introduced his son and tried to enter the home, but Carl Cartwright said he wouldn’t let him because there was no warrant.
Carl Cartwright said he had no idea that the sheriff’s son was not a cop. He confirmed for the BGA, through a photo, that Patrick Zaruba was the person the sheriff introduced as his son.
Kevyn Cartwright eventually turned himself in and was charged with four misdemeanors, including obstructing a peace officer, according to court records. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.
But nowhere in the court records does it mention that Patrick Zaruba chased after Kevyn Cartwright, who died in September 2011 of an accidental methadone overdose, according to the DuPage County coroner’s office. In fact, court records indicate Kevyn Cartwright “ran from Sgt. R. Rushing on a traffic stop to avoid being arrested.”
Rushing declined to comment when contacted by the BGA.
Jay Reese, Kevyn Cartwright’s attorney and uncle, said he had no idea his client was pursued by the sheriff’s son.
In a curious twist, one of the prosecutors involved in Kevyn Cartwright’s case was 28-year-old Chris Zaruba, the sheriff’s eldest son and Patrick Zaruba’s older brother.
Chris Zaruba, an assistant DuPage County state’s attorney since late 2009, wouldn’t comment when reached at the Wheaton courthouse this week. He was involved in reaching the plea deal on the Cartwright case, court records show.
DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said that case was randomly assigned to Chris Zaruba’s courtroom and Chris Zaruba didn’t know his younger brother had chased Kevyn Cartwright.
“Even if he did know that his brother was a ‘ride along,’ he wouldn’t have to recuse himself,” Berlin said. “There is no conflict of interest. . . . Whether Pat chased after him is irrelevant. The crime was committed before the foot chase.”
A law enforcement source estimated that Patrick Zaruba has gone on dozens of ride-alongs over the years.
Another official, Joe Mazzone, chief counsel of the Metropolitan Alliance of Police, said: “I’ve received numerous complaints from a number of road deputies about him doing ride-alongs and taking part in arrests.”
(The Metropolitan Alliance of Police is the union that represents DuPage County sheriff’s deputies.)
At times Patrick Zaruba, who could not be reached for comment, dons a duty belt and carries items such as a flashlight and police radio, sources said. He also wears a bulletproof vest, but doesn’t carry a gun, they said.
During the Cartwright foot chase, Patrick Zaruba was outfitted in a navy blue jacket with the word “sheriff” emblazoned across the back, according to interviews and the video.
It’s not unusual for police departments to have a ride-along program to help the public – including Explorer scouts, many of whom want to someday go into policing – experience what it’s like to be a cop.
But the law enforcement source said Patrick Zaruba’s actions went above and beyond anything he’s ever seen.
Most departments have strict guidelines in place.
The Cook County sheriff’s office, for example, specifically bars participants from becoming involved in any “incident that the officer is handling,” according to a copy of the program’s rules.
But in DuPage there apparently is no rule to prevent a ride-along participant from leaving the vehicle.
“When a ‘ride-along’ gets out of the car, they become part of the problem,” Bradford said.
This story was written and reported by BGA investigator Andrew Schroedter. He can be reached at email@example.com or (312) 821-9035.