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No Charges in Reckless Driving Complaint Against Sheriff

Apr 23, 2018

An investigation into the McDonough County Sheriff's office is over.  State's Attorney Matt Kwacala said the Illinois Attorney General's office told him it will not take action against Sheriff Rick VanBrooker or anyone else regarding a reckless driving complaint against VanBrooker.

The complaint was called in to the 911 Center on April 4, 2017.  A recording of the call details erratic driving by VanBrooker.  The complaint and the recording did not become public until a couple months ago during the heated primary election to replace VanBrooker, who is retiring. 

Retiring Sheriff Rick VanBrooker
Credit Rich Egger

After the recording went public, VanBrooker said he suffered a bout of vertigo on the day in question and pulled over his vehicle until the episode passed.

Kwacala said he asked the Illinois Attorney General’s office to investigate.  Kwacala said that office had Illinois State Police look into the matter, and following that investigation, the Attorney General’s office decided not to take action against the sheriff or anyone else.

One of the people heard on the 911 recording is Chief Deputy Nick Petitgout, who responded to the reckless driving complaint. Petitgout, who’s about to become sheriff, told Tri States Public Radio he does not plan to change his approach to law enforcement as a result of this case.

“All you can really do is go out there and be honest, be caring, be forthcoming.  If you do those things, everything will work out just fine,” Petitgout said.

Petitgout believes the investigation provided the transparency the public wanted.

Petitgout Will Take Over May 1

Meanwhile, the McDonough County Board went along with VanBrooker’s recommendation as to who should succeed him.

Incoming Sheriff Nick Petitgout
Credit Emily Boyer

In his resignation letter to the county board, VanBrooker said he will retire May 1, seven months before his term expires.  He told the board it should appoint Petitgout, who won the March 20 Republican primary for sheriff.  And board members -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- unanimously agreed.

Petitgout believes the bipartisan vote says something about the office.

“I think that shows how important the office of sheriff – you’re everyone’s sheriff, moving across party lines, uniting everyone.  And I think that sort of rings true with how I approached the election,” Petitgout said.

No Democrats filed for sheriff ahead of the primary so Petitgout already stood to become sheriff in December.  Petitgout said he will work with VanBrooker the rest of the month to make sure he’s prepared to run the department.

“Just getting familiar with some of the things that I might not know about the office. One of the things that I constantly ask him: ‘Is there anything you’re not telling me?’ And he says, ‘No, you know how to do it,’” Petitgout said.

“(I will be) reaching out to some of the other department heads, trying to get to know people I might not know within the county. Taking a look at our operations and making sure I know everything that I need to know before he walks out the door.”

Petitgout said he will not immediately appoint a chief deputy.  He said he will try to do both jobs for a while, which he thinks that will help him become a better sheriff.

Petitgout’s annual salary will be $80,909, which is the same as VanBrooker.  The county board agreed to keep the sheriff’s salary at that level for the next four years.