The three Republican candidates running to replace McDonough County Sheriff Rick VanBrooker spoke with Tri States Public Radio about the release of 911 audio recordings from last April that detail a reckless driving complaint against the Sheriff.
As Tri States Public Radio previously reported, the person who called Macomb Police on April 4, 2017 described a driver with glassy eyes who was speeding down the caller’s lane, hitting potholes, and almost rear ended his parked truck. The matter did not come to light until the audio was released by the 911 dispatch center through a Freedom of Information Act Request.
In a written statement, VanBrooker confirmed some of the details described in the 911 call. He said he did pull off the road as he entered town that evening. He spoke with a man and did tell him he was getting comfortable and needed a minute. VanBrooker said he was experiencing the onset of vertigo. He said he pulled over until it passed and then drove home.
Nick Petitgout, Candidate for Sheriff
Chief Deputy Nick Petitgout is the second in command at the Sheriff’s Office. He was on shift the evening of April 4. Petitgout spoke with us as a candidate for sheriff, not in his capacity as Chief Deputy.
Petitgout said he has heard the tapes. In the audio recordings, Petitgout calls into dispatch and ask about the reckless driving complaint involving the sheriff.
Petitgout told Tri States Public Radio he was working on the computer in his office and talking on the phone when the call for service first went out over the radio.
“I turned my radio up and heard the very tail end of the transmission. I heard my Sheriff’s address and vehicle coming out over the radio network. It was being broadcast on the Macomb Police frequency and the McDonough County frequency. I was surprised. I picked up the phone and my dialogue is firmly recorded. And I was, ‘What is going on?’” Petitgout said.
Petitgout said he was not trying to criticize the 911 operator, but rather his voice and tone were one of surprise and confusion.
Petitgout said he hung up the phone and headed to his squad car. He said Deputy Adam Cremer, who goes by number 17 in the audio recordings, arrived at the caller’s address first. Petitgout said he was held up after initially going the wrong way.
Petitgout said they then met up at 712 N. Madison St, which is recorded as the Sheriff’s home address.
“We pull up and the [Sheriff’s] car is in the driveway. I go up to the door, the Sheriff’s there. I said, ‘Someone called you in, driving, a reckless driving complaint.’ He said, ‘Really’. I said, ‘You, okay?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m fine.’ I said, ‘Okay’ and we got in the car and left,” Petitgout recalls.
Petitgout said that if the situation had played out differently -- if hypothetically, they had found the vehicle on the road and the Sheriff appeared to be impaired -- he would have called in the Illinois State Police.
He said it is protocol to respond to a situation, assess it, and then decide whether to bring in another agency.
Petitgout said the operator’s statement of “Make your own case” at the end of the call for service means there was not probable cause based off the information provided. Petitgout said he treated the Sheriff as he would have treated anyone else.
“If someone called you in, reckless driving, and they gave me your address and your car and I drive by your house and your car is sitting in your driveway and you’re not there, I wouldn’t even get out of the car and walk up to your door," Petitgout said. "I would come out on the air, and [say], ‘Unfounded, or 10-8, or it’s over with, or the calls ended.’ I didn’t see you drive and I can’t base anything for an arrest. I have no probable cause to even try and take this stop or take whatever this was further. You’re at home.”
Petitgout said reckless driving complaints are common and he does not typically write a report when the claim turns out to be unfounded. No report was written regarding this incident either.
Petitgout said anyone listening to the scanner would have heard the call. He said that the allegations of cover up circulating on social media and parroted by other news outlets are politically motivated.
“I handled a routine call and I handled it the same way I would have handled it for anyone else," Petitgout said. "If that warrants an investigation, then I don’t know.”
Justin Lundgren, Candidate for Sheriff
Justin Lundgren is a detective with the Sheriff’s Office. Lundgren told Tri States Public Radio he was not on duty that evening and had not been made aware of the incident by anyone at the Sheriff’s Office.
He said he has listened to the audio recordings from that evening. Lundgren said he believes in an open door policy when it comes to policing.
“The law should apply to everyone equally, and the department should have the public’s trust,” Lundgren said. “But politicizing the allegations of misconduct by the Sheriff or the Chief Deputy, at this point, would be inappropriate. It could develop into an ongoing investigation and I’m not going to politicize that.”
Lundgren said he doesn’t know what happened that night. He said the State Attorney’s office or the Illinois Attorney General could decide to investigate the incident.
Bryan Baca, Candidate for Sheriff
Bryan Baca told Tri States Public Radio there should be an investigation just to ensure everything followed standard operating procedure.
“The McDonough County Sheriff and that department should not have been handling that call. As soon as they found out it was the sheriff it should have been diverted to handle. That way there wouldn’t be this tenor of wrongdoing so to speak,” Baca said.
Baca is the operations warden for the Illinois Department of Correction’s facility in Canton.
Upcoming Candidate’s Forum
The Sheriff, who is also a Republican announced in early June he would not seek reelection after taking office in 2006. The three Republicans running to replace him all live in Macomb.
The candidates plan to attend meet the candidate’s forum hosted by the Macomb Feminist Network on Saturday, February 10 at the community room at Macomb City Hall.
The three will meet again at the League of Women Voter’s forum on Tuesday, February 20, 7:00 p.m. at the Macomb High School library.
Both events are open to the public.