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Former Wheaton cop fighting for pension after being fired for watching porn in squad car

Published: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 8:31 p.m. CST • Updated: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 9:48 p.m. CST

WHEATON – A former Wheaton police officer is fighting for his pension on grounds of disability after he was fired in January for watching porn in his squad car while on duty.

Thomas Sommerfield, who worked for 23 years as a patrolman and forensics officer for the Wheaton Police Department, was terminated after a driver pulled up behind him at the stoplight at Main and Front streets and saw him viewing inappropriate images on his laptop in September 2013, according to city documents.

Several weeks later, the witness emailed Wheaton Mayor Mike Gresk about what he had seen, prompting a nearly four-month investigation, documents state.

City Attorney Jim Knippen, who led Sommerfield's formal interrogation Jan. 10, said the city took its time and went through the necessary process carefully.

"After the citizen complaint was filed, the police began a prompt and very thorough investigation, and as a result of the investigation, the chief discharged the officer," he said.

Dating back to 2012, Sommerfield looked at illicit images and videos while on the clock for up to two hours in a given day, according to a transcript of the interrogation.

The Burr Ridge Police Department ran a forensics analysis of his onboard computer in October 2013 and found he had visited a number of pornographic and escort sites. The department discovered 25 deleted pictures and four deleted video fragments on the computer, according to the analysis report. His previous history had also been deleted to hide his activity, Sommerfield said in the transcript.

Many of the websites were visited several hundred times over the two-year span, always while Sommerfield was on duty, the report stated. In at least one instance he was being paid overtime and in at least three he was patroling local schools.

"The sheer volume of information discovered was too voluminous to include in this report," the report summary stated. "The dates and times referred to in this report are reflective of an ongoing pattern of his work product and behavior."

Sommerfield's police car was taken out of service Oct. 1, and on Oct. 4 he called his superior officer and confessed, he said in the transcript.

"I think at this point I had realized that my world had completely crashed," Sommerfield said.

The officer was making $87,339 annually in the last year of his employment, according to city documents.

He was terminated Jan. 22, but is now fighting for disability benefits, according to city documents. Specifics of his condition were redacted from documents obtained by Suburban Life, but Sommerfield said in the transcript he had been receiving treatment and taking two medications for several years, and that his doctor told him if the two were out of balance, "addictive traits" could be intensified.

Sommerfield went before the Police Pension Fund Board on July 1. Neither his lawyer nor the board's attorney responded to requests for comment. The next scheduled meeting is Aug. 19, according to the city website, although a special hearing may be set.

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