On April 4, 2017, McDonough County 911 Dispatch Center operator put out a call to the Macomb Police Department and the McDonough County Sheriff's Department for assistance. It was a complaint about reckless and possibly intoxicated driver. The suspect's name was Richard VanBrooker -- who is the McDonough County Sheriff.
UPDATE 2/6/18 at 1:20 PM: The Sheriff's written response has been added to the bottom of this story.
The audio recordings were released by the McDonough County 911 call center because of a Freedom of Information Act Request. The authenticity of them has been verified by Tri States Public Radio.
The audio is dated, Tuesday, April 4, 2017. At 5:40 p.m., a citizen called the Macomb Police and spoke with a 911 operator for about four and half minutes. He told the operator that a car drove up his private lane off of Route 136 near the Modern Home furniture store and the Elks lodge.
On the audio recording, the caller said, “This guy just came blazing down my lane and I have a lot of potholes, I mean he had to be doing 30. He comes and almost hits the back of my truck. I walk up to him to make sure he doesn’t get out of the car because I have dogs out. I said, ‘Hi’. And he goes, ‘I’m just getting comfortable.’ His eyes and everything were glazed over. I asked him, ‘Do you know where you are at?’ He said, ‘I’m just getting comfortable. I don’t understand the question.’ I don’t know if this is the number to call to make sure he doesn’t hurt somebody.”
The caller said he was unsure whether the driver went into town or away from it when he left the lane. But the caller did pass along the car make, model, and license plate number. The operator asked for a description of the driver.
The caller provided one stating that the driver was Caucasian and tan and that’s he’s seen the driver before, but can’t place him.
The operator quickly confirmed the vehicle’s information and put out the call on the radio for City of Macomb Police and the McDonough County Sheriff’s Department, “Reckless driving… possible 10-55. Gray, silver Nissan. Sped into complainant’s lane and then left. Male, white driving, orange shirt. 10-28 Richard VanBrooker, 712 N Madison St. in Macomb.”
A couple of minutes later the operator received a call from the Sheriff Department’s Chief Deputy Nick Petitgout.
Petitgout: What was that?
Petitgout: That you just put out?
Operator: The reckless driving?
Petitgout: On the sheriff?
Operator: Yeah… oh, I didn’t even.
Petitgout: Yeah. (Hangs up phone)
A minute later on the audio recordings you can hear Deputy Adam Cremer talking with Petitgout over the radio. Petitgout told him that he is talking on the phone with Deputy Tom Pledge. Cremer asked Petitgout to call him when he’s done.
Another minute later Deputy Cremer called the 911 operator asking for details about the original reckless driving complaint. The operator recounted the call for him. Cremer asked where the call came in from and the address where the car was registered to.
The last radio transmission came in at 5:55 p.m. Two officers are discussing which way to go. “I’m going to go south real quick,” one officer radios. Another replies, “Yeah, go up that way.”
The Director of the McDonough County 911 call center, Jessica Shoopman, said her office only records radio communication and phone calls that go through dispatch. So, that means they would not have any records if the officers were communicating with one another by cell phone.
Shoopman said the 911 operator handled the situation appropriately and is still employed with the county.
“I know initially the recordings show that there were some deputies upset that this was put out over the radio. The dispatcher was relatively new on the job and the license plate came back to the formal name of the sheriff which is not easily recognizable and she didn’t recognize it at the point,” Shoopman said.
TSPR: “But even if she had, as far as the call center protocol goes. It should have still gone out?"
Shoopman: “Absolutely, it’s a call from service from the public. We don’t discriminate amongst citizens."
TSPR asked Chief Deputy Nick Petitgout to comment on the events of April 4. He confirmed that it was the sheriff who was identified as the subject of the reckless driving complaint. But he would not provide any details.
“I can’t comment on it until he [VanBrooker] does. That’s part of our policy. He’s the mouth piece of the organization so you’re going to have to talk to Rick about that,” Petitgout said.
TSPR then reached McDonough County Sheriff Rick VanBrooker on his cell phone. He said he was in training but still took the call. VanBrooker said he’s not yet heard the audio recordings and wants to get all the information available before he would comment on the situation.
VanBrooker, a Republican, has been in office since 2006. He announced in early June he would not seek re-election.
Three Republicans are running to replace him. They are Chief Deputy Nick Petitgout and Detective Justin Lundgren, who both work for the Sheriff’s Department, and Bryan Baca, the operations warden for the Department of Correction’s facility in Canton.
Early voting begins February 8 and the primary is scheduled for March 20.
This is a developing story and TSPR will release more information as it becomes available.
UPDATE 2/6/18 at 1:20 PM: Sheriff Rick VanBrooker released the following written statement to media via email at 12:49 PM
"On April 4 th 2017 I was driving into Macomb when I experienced the onset of what felt like Vertigo. I had been to my doctor about the problem prior to this incident. I pulled off Jackson Street onto a lane and then into a drive way hoping to let the feeling pass. I did speak with a man who was concerned and I did mention getting comfortable and I also told him that I just needed a minute. I did not explain what was going on since I did not want him calling an ambulance. The feeling passed and I left. I went straight home and I would have been home or very close to home when the call went out. The deputies did what they should have done by searching the area where the call came from before locating me at my house. I had been at my house for a period of time prior to the deputy’s arrival. What was covered up? Nothing."
"I have been your Sheriff for over a decade and in that time a lot of good things have happened here at the Sheriff’s Office. During that time I have also made enemies that will seize upon this opportunity make baseless allegations. I will continue to do the job you hired me to do to the best of my ability until I retire later this year," VanBrooker wrote in a statement emailed to media.