coroner

The former coroner of Round Lake Park, Illinois has been arrested and charged with multiple felonies. According to the Chicago Tribune, “Former Lake County Coroner Thomas Rudd has been indicted on five felony counts of perjury, with authorities alleging he falsely claimed to have witnessed signatures on his election nominating petitions.” The coroner’s arrest might seem justified if weren’t for Round Lake Park, IL Police Department’s sordid past and current track record of alleged corruption, cover-ups, and scandals.

In 2016, ten of the thirteen police officers that comprise the small police department filed a civil rights lawsuit against the village and the department after learning the body cameras worn by officers at all times were allegedly capturing the officers in compromising situations which included a female officer using the bathroom, and others in intimate situations.

The lawsuit names the village, the Chief of Police (George Filenko), and his second-in-command as defendants. “The only two people with full administrative access to the video review system were Filenko and Deputy Chief Daniel Burch, who therefore knew about the unauthorized video, asserts the suit, which names both as defendants. Burch had also conducted the department’s initial two-hour training session on the cameras, showing officers how to start and stop the devices, advising officers to record almost all calls, both routine and emergency, including traffic stops and foot pursuits,” writes the Tribune.

One by one, as former Round Lake Park Police Officer Dominick Izzo told The Free Thought Project, Filenko then began to harass, intimidate, and threaten the officers whose names were listed as plaintiffs in the case. Chief Filenko supposedly made life so difficult for them, that many left the PD and moved to other precincts.

But it was the 48 Hours episode which chronicled Melissa Calusinski’s fight to prove her innocence which sent Izzo over the blue line of silence, transforming him into a whistleblower, an action which cost him his career and has now led to the former coroner’s arrest.

Calusinski, a daycare worker in her 20’s, was charged with murder in the Jan. 14th, 2009 death of baby Ben Kingan who passed away while in her care. The state’s case against Calusinski argued Kingan was a healthy little boy when she violently slammed him on the ground, causing a skull fracture, which led to his death. After all, Calusinski confessed on video, even reenacting how she’d killed the little boy.

The trial was equally as convincing, and the jury returned a guilty verdict. In 2011, the young woman was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Calusinski denied any involvement in Kingan’s death saying, “I was just ready to get away from these men.” Those men to which she referred were the investigators in her case, one of whom was Filenko himself.

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She claims she was intimidated into falsely confessing to the infant’s death. She had claimed innocence for more than six hours, eventually giving in and saying whatever in order to get out of the interrogation. No sooner had she been placed into the squad car than she recanted her confession. Experts in researching false confessions agreed, saying Calusinski was coached by Filenko in what to say, and how to describe her actions, leading her into falsely claiming she was guilty.

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The experts also said the daycare worker’s immediate willingness to take a polygraph test and have the other children at the daycare interviewed by child behavioral experts was further evidence she did not commit the crime she was accused of committing. From the 9 hours of videotaped interrogations, one could easily conclude the interrogators verbally berated Calusinski, intimidated her with profane words, and overlooked the hours of denials of any involvement in Kingan’s death. That feeling, of being in the presence of one of Filenko’s verbal assaults, was a feeling Izzo knew all too well, and had experienced on numerous occasions.

Izzo knew he would lose his job when he came out as a whistleblower against his boss, Round Lake Park, IL Police Chief George Filenko. Izzo, the former Police Union President, and former “Officer of the Year” for the small police department of 12 officers, had once been inside the chief’s inner circle, serving as his right-hand man. But that all changed when Izzo became more aware of Melissa Calusinski’s case. After the 48 Hours episode aired, which made no mention of Chief Filenko, Izzo released all he’d been holding inside.

The Free Thought Project first broke the story of Izzo’s public denouncement of his former police Chief, boss, and friend. The now former Round Lake Park police officer posted his lack of confidence in Filenko on Facebook. He accused the chief of knowingly allowing the body cameras worn by all of Round Lake Park’s police officers to film the officers in compromising and intimate situations. He detailed what he considered was Filenko’s vengeance against the police officers who filed a lawsuit against the chief, the department, and the county.

According to Izzo, those who sued the city found themselves the target of the police chief’s recompense in the form of demotions, threats, and intimidation. And then Izzo turned his attention to Calusinski’s case, saying his chief was the real reason Calusinski was in prison. He said it wasn’t her guilt which put her there, but the chief’s incompetence, and that the man should never have been allowed to interrogate her in the first place.

Put simply, Izzo believed Calusinski was innocent and the police were doing all they could to keep her in prison. Not surprisingly, Izzo was fired the day after our story broke. But the pressure is now on the village to justify its treatment of the young, and some have said, innocent daycare worker. There are others, also, who agree Melissa Calusinski was innocent.

“Normally a pathologist is not 100 percent, but I feel she’s 100 percent innocent,” former Lake County coroner Thomas Rudd told 48 Hours. In 2012, Calusinski’s father persuaded Rudd to review the autopsy evidence that had been used to convict his daughter. Rudd had recently been elected to the position of Lake County Coroner, and he said, “I was stunned. I could not believe what I was seeing, because it was the exact opposite of what was written.”

Rudd then got a second opinion from Dr. Nancy Jones, also a pathologist who’s conducted 10,000 autopsies. “Huge, hugely, significant, and how they let that go is beyond me,” Rudd said upon reviewing the 4-inch by 4-inch old injury he and Jones said had been healing for nearly 4 months prior to his death. “The old injury was massive,” Rudd said. Adding to the evidence Calusinski didn’t kill Kingan was the fact Kingan’s head circumference had grown from the 50th percentile to the 90th percentile within just a few short months.

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Dr. Rudd then called the original pathologist Dr. Choi and asked the former pathologist to confirm his and Jones’ findings. He did. Dr. Choi admitted he was wrong in a sworn affidavit. Prosecutors Matthew Demartini and Stephen Sheller refused to concede a miscarriage of justice had occurred. They two were joined by Lake County State’s Attorney Michael Nerheim. The trio would eventually be victorious in court for a second time, keeping Calusinski in prison.

“How do you fracture a skull without causing tissue damage to the skin above it? It’s not possible,” Rudd stated acknowledging Kingan, at the time of his death, had no signs of a contusion in the area where the state’s attorney’s say Calusinski caused injury leading to his death. And the size of the infant’s head was noticeably abnormal.

“His head looked like the old fashioned light bulb,” which he said was not the shape of a normal child’s brain. The boy’s brain was abnormally large at the time of his death, which was something Calusinski did not cause. Newly discovered x-rays of Kingan’s brain also confirmed what other experts concluded was an abnormally shaped head, which is an obvious indication of brain swelling, a condition which could have easily caused his death.

In 2015, after gathering all the facts, Dr. Rudd then reclassified Kingan’s death from a “homicide” to “undetermined.” Armed with the coroner’s corrected cause of death, Calusinski’s Attorney Kathleen Zelener in June 2015, filed a petition to have Calusinski’s conviction thrown out, based on all of the evidence which has emerged since her conviction. It took a year of fighting, but finally, in June of 2016, Lake County Judge Daniel Shanes agreed to give Calusinski and her lawyer a hearing in court.

By August, she was back in court to determine whether or not Calusinski should be freed. Zelener even testified that at the original trial, the prosecution gave Calusinski’s defense attorneys x-rays of Kingan’s brain which had been photoshopped to prevent the defense attorneys from discovering there were no skull fractures as the prosecution contended.

Judge Shanes refused to overturn Calusinski’s conviction, even with the overwhelming evidence of two new medical doctors, the statement from the former pathologist admitting he’d made a mistake, the fact the child’s brain was abnormally large, the knowledge there was no contusion on the child’s head, and the contention the defense never received clear x-rays. “I totally expected it. We’re in Lake County. They never admit they’re wrong,” Zelener said.

After all the evidence was presented, after one police officer lost his job for blowing the whistle, and after Calusinski’s hopes for freedoms were dashed, what did Dr. Rudd receive in exchange for attempting to free someone he believed was “100 percent innocent”? He has been arrested, and charged with perjury. Izzo says the charges against Rudd are trumped up, all done in an effort to discredit the medical doctor, and thereby making him an unbelievable and unreliable witness in all cases going forward, including any more appeals to set Calusinski free as well as any others who may have been forced into a false confession and thereby a false imprisonment.

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In a statement to The Free Thought Project, the former insider, who worked closely with Chief Filenko said Rudd is being targeted for speaking out against what the county has done to Calusinski, starting with her inhumane interrogation and ending with her coached and coerced false confession. In a Facebook post, Izzo stated, “If you cannot see the blatant attempt to discredit Rudd to keep Calusinski in jail, then you are blind. The FBI needs to step in now.”

Spelling it out even further, Izzo correctly stated that the same judge (Shanes) who refused to overturn Calusinski’s conviction is the same one who is president over Rudd’s perjury hearings. The former police union president also stated Filenko is “best friends” with the State Attorney Nerheim.

Rudd’s defense attorney Jed Stone said the charges against Rudd are “political payback for Dr. Rudd embarrassing law enforcement because they did not do their jobs…Everybody knows it. I am getting such favorable comments (regarding Rudd) from the public.”

Dr. Rudd, who is 70-years-old, has pleaded not guilty last week to all the charges brought against him. Prior to the plea, Stone asked for a substitution of judges, presumably because of the obvious conflict of interest in Shanes’ involvement in the Calusinski case. His motion was granted and Shanes was replaced with Judge Victoria Rossetti. Stone said he will be filing a motion within the coming days to have all the charges dropped against his client.

As The Free Thought Project has reported on numerous occasions, government often will identify targeted individuals whom it will go after for special prosecution. Those individuals, despite having protections from federal and state whistleblower protections laws, are often those individuals who are brave enough to speak out against the injustices they see being committed in their communities.

It is the belief of The Free Thought Project, after interviewing the former police union president, Dominik Izzo, and after learning the former coroner has also come forward with his own allegations of cover-up, distortions, and downright lies surrounding the Calusinski case and others, that the Town of Round Lake Park Illinois has a serious issue with police corruption, judicial corruption, and legislative corruption.

The police chief should be replaced, if for nothing but the miscarriage of justice in the brutal interrogation of Melissa Calusinski which lead, as we believe, to a false confession. The judge, in light of the preponderance of new evidence presented, should be recalled if for nothing less than refusing to overturn Calusinski’s conviction. And the mayor of Round Lake Park, Illinois should resign for refusing to fire such a seriously flawed individual to lead the town’s police department.

The civil case involving the body cameras is enough justification for Filenko’s resignation to be demanded. Someone needs to step up and get an innocent woman out of jail, and bring back trust to the town now besieged with a lack of confidence in its leaders.

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Jack Burns is an educator, journalist, investigative reporter, and advocate of natural medicine
  • Gene Dolen

    I’m sorry for the child’s parents. Evidently there was an accident at home and the child got a bump. Later he was seen and videotaped behaving normally. A few days later he died in the day care. That’s about all anyone really knows. The sad thing is that Melissa didn’t even know how to make the alleged fractures occur. The police had to walk her through what happened and correct her whenever she made a mistake. It was like watching the episode of Breaking Bad where Badger was going to identify the wrong suspect in the park and he had to be motioned to the right one.