Jerame Simmons Sr., an East Carondelet native previously convicted of arson and later pardoned, caught the public’s attention after being named chief of the Prairie du Pont Fire Department this winter.
Now, he is simultaneously serving as a part-time police officer in East Carondelet, where his father Herb Simmons has long served as mayor.
How it happened
According to records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and verified by East Carondelet Police Chief Rodney Stone, Simmons applied to be a part-time police officer in October 2021 – months before he was appointed acting fire chief in late December 2021.
Jerame was officially hired as a part-time police officer during a March 14 village board meeting, yet this was not his first time working under the department. Jerame said he had worked as an auxiliary officer – which he explained is under the authority of part-time officers and the police chief and does not have full arresting powers – for many years.
Stone said that for approximately a year before Jerame was hired part-time, he was essentially acting as Stone’s unofficial “assistant” with paperwork as an arresting officer. Stone added Jerame’s’ time with the police department began before he was named police chief.
Jerame’s appointment sparked many questions about his firearm privileges, as well as ignited assertions within the community that nepotism led to his hiring.
For Laura Rosenkranz, who was a captain before Jerame was named chief of the Prairie du Pont Fire Department and is the wife of former fire chief John Rosenkranz, the situation is reminiscent of Jerame’s fire chief appointment.
She said Jerame has “the right last name” and said she believes he was not “properly vetted” for either position.
“The state, county and local government elected officials have let my family down and let us all down,” Rosenkranz said. “We had a full vote of no confidence in him, (but) the county nor local leadership would hear us.”
As part of its FOIA request sent to the village’s attorney, the Republic-Times obtained an ordinance dated Aug. 13, 2012 that stated part-time police officers are appointed by the president of the village – which is synonymous with the mayor – with the approval from village trustees. It also said part-time officer hours are determined by the village president and approved by the board, and the discipline of part-time officers is at the discretion of the mayor.
However, both Jerame and Herb Simmons maintain family ties did not influence him being named fire department chief or part-time police officer, and the Simmonses and Stone said the latter process is more complex than the 2012 ordinance said.
“(Herb Simmons) didn’t have any involvement in this,” Jerame said, later adding. “I don’t report to him. I report to the chief and the district members.”
Stone backed up this sentiment.
“I can say with 100 percent certainty that since I’ve taken over as police chief in 2019 (Herb Simmons) has let me run my department … he’s not involved in the hiring process unless there’s a tiebreaker vote or something,” Stone said. “We did everything (in hiring Jerame) the same way we would have done if Joe Schmoe were to apply.”
Stone explained that when an individual applies to be a police officer, he collects necessary information such as application materials, fingerprints and other background check information.
On average, Stone said, it takes five to six weeks to obtain a background check. Then, he notifies the three-person police board – which consists of select village board members, about the applicants – and the majority must approve the employment.
Finally, it is brought to the six village trustees.
The police board in East Carondelet consists of trustees Jim Brown, Bruce Gill and Bryan Reddick. Reddick, who is also treasurer of the Prairie du Pont Fire Protection District Board, said the mayor appoints village trustees to the police board.
Reddick told the Republic-Times this board had carefully considered Jerame’s application. The March 14 meeting minutes state Stone had met with the police board previously to discuss hiring Simmons and Jordan Cook as part-time officers and Anthony Siever and Frank Haynes as auxiliary officers.
The meeting minutes continued to state “the board approved the appointments on a motion by Trustee Brown and seconded by Trustee Reddick.”
Reddick said he had previously worked with Jerame before he was appointed to the fire department and as a part-time officer on the police department, as Jerame had worked with emergency management.
Reddick said he believes Jerame’s background can actually serve as a positive in his law enforcement career – explaining that he feels many officers focus on making arrests while “Jerame knows how easily you can destroy somebody’s life.”
He continued, “If (Jerame) can give them a chance, he will.”
FOID card, training
As the FOIA request and Stone revealed, East Carondelet part-time officers are required to undergo 40-hour firearm training and a part-time police academy.
A State of Illinois Certificate awarded to Jerame by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board reveals he completed the 40-hour course from March 17-22 in Lebanon.
Stone said Jerame has not yet completed the part-time academy, which he said spans nine months and must be completed within the first 18 months of employment.
Stone said Jerame has not done a lot of patrolling, but he can still do so under a certified officer’s oversight pending completion of the academy.
As has been widely reported, the governor’s pardon Jerame received, dated May 14, 2021, cleared previous charges of arson and unauthorized stop with flashing lights from his record, and included a provision that stated he still could not “ship, transport, possess or receive firearms.”
However, a letter informing Jerame of the governor’s decision, which the R-T obtained via FOIA request, stated “the pardon and expungement with Firearms Owner’s Identification certificate and a receipt are enclosed.”
This letter was dated May 19, 2021.
Jerame’s FOID card was also included in the FOIA response. Because it is a newer FOID card, it does not include its date of issue, but Jerame confirmed that Illinois State Police did issue the card as his pardon petition was granted in May 2021.
Stone said there is a federal law that does not require officers to have a FOID card in order to carry a firearm while on the job, but the East Carondelet Police Department follows state law that requires a FOID card. Stone said the department requires this of part-time officers and noted East Carondelet does not have full-time officers.
“That’s just a little extra protection, because it has another agency (the state police) checking their background and making sure nothing fell through the cracks,” Stone said.
Reddick said Jerame did not carry a gun as an auxiliary officer. He added these officers are more used as back-up and are not required to go to the police academy.