CHICAGO (CBS) — A Cook County Sheriff’s officer returned to work on Monday, after a judge reversed a personnel board’s decision to fire her in 2014.
Cook County Judge Diane Larson ordered Dixie Rios be reinstated as an officer on Friday, ruling she was illegally fired by the sheriff’s merit board.
Rios walked into the sheriff’s office at 26th and California just after 9 a.m. Monday.
“I have a lot of emotions, but at this point I’m just hoping that everything will go smoothly, as far as H.R. and coming back,” Rios said.
She was forced out three years ago, after the sheriff’s office accused her of passing along a jailhouse threat from her brother, who is a gang member. Rios said the charge was retaliation for questioning department policy.
Rios is one of hundreds of sheriff’s officers whose firings or other disciplinary action could be reversed, after the Illinois Appellate Court ruled earlier this year that the sheriff wrongfully appointed a man to the merit board for a term less than the mandated six years. The court found all disciplinary action taken by the board between 2011 and 2015 was void, because the board had been “illegally constituted.”
Attorney Dana Kurtz, who filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of officers disciplined or fired during that time, said Sheriff Tom Dart “thinks he is above the law and has operated this illegal board for years, since 2007, in an effort to play politics with hiring at the Sheriff’s department.”
“In too many cases, he has fired good officers on trumped up charges, and conducted bumbling, and slipshod investigations against officers he did not think supported him politically or those that complained about illegal conduct, including sexual harassment, by top ranking members of his command staff,” she said. “Hundreds have lost their jobs and been defamed because of politics and for retaliatory and discriminatory reasons.”
On Friday, Larson ordered the sheriff to give Rios her job back, along with approximately $300,000 in back pay.
The sheriff’s office has defended firing Rios, and said it plans to continue fighting to remove her.
“Police officer Rios was terminated for gross misconduct, for facilitating interference in a criminal investigation on behalf of her brother, a high ranking gang member. She engaged in this conduct despite her oath to uphold and protect the public. She was terminated for her serious misconduct,” Cook County Sheriff policy chief Cara Smith said in an email.
“In light of Judge Larsen’s order, we expect her to report to Human Resources this morning to begin the process of returning to work. There is no need for the planned grandstanding and we vehemently deny Ms Kurtz’s incendiary accusations. Her return to work will be uneventful and will not interfere with the operations of this office or the criminal justice system. The judge’s order, we believe, was incorrect and exceeded her authority in the relief provided.”
The sheriff’s office said it will ask Larson to reconsider her ruling.