WHEATON, Ill. (CBS) — It could endanger people and cost taxpayers plenty. The DuPage County Sheriff’s son regularly goes on ride alongs with officers; he’s not a cop, but sometimes he acts like one.
CBS 2’s Pam Zekman and the Better Government Association obtained videotape of one of those ride alongs.
The dashboard camera of a DuPage County Sheriff’s squad car captured video of an erratic driver going the wrong way last year. The driver turned into oncoming traffic, and continued driving, then pulled into a strip mall and fled on foot.
He was chased on foot, but not by a sheriff’s deputy – instead, then-18-year-old Patrick Zaruba, the son of DuPage County Sheriff John Zaruba was the one who ran after the driver.
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BGA investigator Andrew Schroedter said, “The teenager that was driving the car got away, even though Pat Zaruba, the sheriff’s son, was chasing him.”
Sources inside the sheriff’s office were afraid to speak publicly, for fear of reprisals by their boss, but they said that incident was the worst of many abuses they’ve coped with, during the dozens of rides they estimate sheriff’s son has taken over the years.
“He’s not a deputy, but he dresses like one,” Schroedter said. “At times, he’s carried a flashlight, pepper spray, police radio, Kevlar vest with the word sheriff on it. Any citizen that saw him on the street, we’re told, would think he’s a deputy.”
One source who saw the video said, by chasing the reckless driver, Patrick Zaruba might have distracted the real sheriff’s officer in the squad car from making sure the suspect didn’t harm the public.
“He could ultimately, possibly kill someone,” the source said. “But now I can’t focus on that potential danger to the public? I have to be concerned with the sheriff’s son pursuing him? Crazy.”
That’s one reason why experts say most police agencies prohibit people who go on ride alongs from taking law enforcement action.
“Once that person gets out of that car and starts in the chase, it’s like opening the lid to Pandora’s box. You don’t know what’s going to come out of there,” David Bradford, executive director of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety, said. “It creates a tremendous risk and a tremendous exposure.”
Asked what could have happened as a result of that chase, the sheriff’s office source said, “Patrick could have gotten injured. … How about if Patrick all of a sudden tackles the individual, and the individual hits his or her head on the ground?”
Schroedter said, “Taxpayers could face huge liability if something goes wrong.”
That reckless driver was later charged and pleaded guilty to obstructing a peace officer, and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.
In a statement, Sheriff Zaruba said his son was an Explorer Scout, and his participation in the ride along was consistent with department guidelines.
He said his son responded in an appropriate way the night of the chase, and nothing noteworthy occurred any other time his son was on a ride along.