Don’t you love just those overzealous and congenial folks who are always willing to prove the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction? I know I do! They make this columnist’s life exponentially easier.
Though we’re not even half way through it, I’m ready to pass out this year’s heralded and highly sought after first annual “What the (Bleep) Were You Thinking?” award. You can decide for yourself what the “bleep” stands for. Some people say this prize is more prestigious than a Peabody.
Since no one could possibly top this stunt, the 2012 “What the (Bleep)” honor goes to none other than DuPage County Sheriff John Zaruba. Congratulations, sir! We’re all looking forward to your acceptance speech.
Through your amazing capacity to exercise unparalleled bad judgment, you managed to beat out contenders such as Sarah Palin, the entire Secret Service, Ted Nugent, Newt Gingrich, Lindsay Lohan, the entire GSA, Anthony Weiner, Donald Trump and Congressman Joe Walsh. That’s no small accomplishment.
According to a Better Government Association report, not only did Sheriff Zaruba decide it was a good idea to let his then 18-year-old son participate in multiple deputy ride-alongs while wearing a DuPage Sheriff's Office windbreaker, but to actually chase down and later confront a perp.
Yes! On April 23, 2011, after a deputy pulled over a white Ford Tempo on 75th Street, the younger Zaruba exited the squad car and pursued the fleeing suspect on foot.
But wait, there’s more!
After running the plate, the suspect’s father told the BGA that the sheriff, his son, Patrick, and other deputies showed up “all in uniform” and tried to enter his home despite the lack of a search warrant. The father added that he assumed the sheriff’s son was a police officer because that’s exactly what any rational person would do.
The suspect eventually give himself up, but neither police report mentioned anything about Patrick Zaruba’s participation in this escapade.
But here’s what tipped the "What the (Bleep)" award scales in Zaruba’s favor: In his written response to the BGA, our illustrious sheriff claimed his son “responded in an appropriate way.”
Apparently, Zaruba thinks it’s appropriate to put his deputies and son at risk by allowing an untrained nitwit to play cops and robbers whenever he threatens to hold his breath. And, silly me! I thought risking all those DuPage County taxpayer dollars on a large liability lawsuit might be considered inappropriate, too!
Of course, neither Zaruba had the courage to talk to the press, because being DuPage County sheriff means never having to say you’re sorry. He believes the office to which he was elected—by you—is nothing more than the Zaruba family playground.
In lieu of the sheriff, I did call DuPage County Chairman Dan Cronin to get his slant on this fascinating prospect, but he didn’t think it was important enough to respond. So much for someone I once considered to be a “rising political star.” Perhaps I need to come up with a “Chicken (Bleep) Of the Year” award, because he’s certainly in the running.
DuPage State’s Attorney Bob Berlin actually did have the nerve to respond, but when I asked him if he planned to charge Patrick Zaruba with impersonating a police officer, he said there was no evidence that he wore a uniform.
I suppose wearing the windbreaker, a duty belt with flashlight, a bulletproof vest, and carrying a police radio doesn’t count. That’s good to know! I’ve been thinking about making a few DuPage County traffic stops of my own.
Berlin also explained that exiting a patrol car during a ride along did not violate DuPage County policy. Why am I not surprised?
Ah! But just when I thought the possibility of just one responsible DuPage County politician was even more remote than a Ron Paul presidency, Paul Fichtner, chairman of the DuPage County Board Finance Committee, called this news “disturbing.” He noted that, had something gone wrong, neither Zaruba would have had to pay the legal bills.
I also want to give a shout out to the deputies who had the courage and intelligence to go to CBS News and the BGA with this abject stupidity. Though it’s really not setting the bar too high, they certainly have better judgment than their boss. No police officer should have to play nanny to an immature 18-year-old who really ought to know better, even if his father doesn’t.
This is the point at which I’d normally call for Sheriff Zaruba’s resignation, but he clearly doesn’t have that kind of self-respect. In fact, considering his already interesting history, I’m convinced he’s already busy working how he can win next year’s “What the (Bleep) Were You Thinking?” award.
I'm rooting for you, sir! I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!