City marches in support of a police officer whose testimony was withdrawn for theft of $14.99 retail in 2008
Former Cicero, Illinois, police officer Xena Ramos freely and remorsefully admits to stealing a T-shirt 15 years ago.
She said she had just escaped an unsafe living situation with her young child, and had no clothes when she said she took the $14.99 shirt.
But Ramos, 37, doesn’t think it’s fair that a cheap jersey should derail her career.
In April, the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board barred Ramos from obtaining the certificate while she was being transferred to the Riverside Police Department, citing theft.
The state police certification body told the Western Suburb attorney that the law dictates the outcome and that the misdemeanor charge Ramos faced would harm her ability to serve effectively as an officer by making her court testimony unreliable to jurors.
Riverside chiefs oppose the decision. They say the board has the power to approve Ramos, and she deserves a second chance.
“Yes, I made a mistake in 2008,” Matthew Buckley, Riverside’s director of public safety, said at a news conference held Tuesday in support of Ramos. “But what I’ve done since that day is the important part.”
In the years after the robbery, Ramos went to school to study criminal justice, worked as a Cicero Community Service officer and served for a year as a Cicero police officer.
“That’s the kind of person I want to work for here at Riverside. Because, Riverside, we give second chances. We work with people,” Buckley said.
Ramos spoke only six words at the press conference on Tuesday before breaking down in tears.
“I know I made a mistake,” she said inside Riverside Village Hall, before pausing to collect herself as she began to cry.
“I have taken responsibility for my actions,” she continued. “And I felt like I did everything right to better myself and my family, so that I could become a police officer, so that I could help people dealing with the conditions that I dealt with.”
Buckley said Ramos was certified as a police officer in August 2021 after being hired by the Cicero Police Department and completing the Cook County Sheriff’s Office Police Academy.
She said she decided to leave Cicero’s department because she preferred the pace of police work in Riverside, where she felt she had more time to “give people their undivided attention.”
Buckley said that after passing the Riverside entrance exam and conducting interviews, she became the No. 2 candidate on the department’s list of potential officers. The department assigned her the day before Valentine’s Day this year and immediately put her through field training.
In late March, after the Training and Standards Board sent a letter including questions about Ramos’ background to Riverside police chiefs seeking re-certification, the department responded with a letter admitting and accepting the 2008 theft charges.
“We were very aware of that. She was very friendly,” Buckley said.
The board responded by resolving in April to deny Ramos re-certification as a police officer, stating that he “can only approve applicants of good moral character and free from any disqualifying convictions” in a letter sent by General Counsel Patrick Hahn and obtained by the Tribune.
In the letter, Hahn defined theft as a “misdemeanor of disqualification” under Illinois law. He also cited the overhaul of the SAFE-T criminal justice law, stating that the law compelled the board to review applicants for certification to ensure they had not engaged in “any crime involving moral turpitude and honour”.
“Past behavior is a rational predictor of future behavior,” Hahn wrote, citing the 2008 case, adding that Ramos was placed under court supervision in 2003 for retail store robbery.
“There is an old saying, ‘He who steals once is always a thief,’” he continued in his letter. “While such thinking may be unfair, it is not uncommon especially in light of today’s jury opinions on the police. Ensuring the credibility of prosecution witnesses is a modern challenge, which requires that the reputation of the officers who testify be above reproach.
When asked about the case on Tuesday, Han said it would be inappropriate to comment on a pending case.
“In general, I would say in accordance with the Police Training Act, and the amendments introduced by the SAFE-T Act, we have an ongoing duty to ensure that all sworn law enforcement officers are free from any disqualified criminal offenses as provided by law.” he wrote in an email to the Tribune.
Buckley told the Tribune that the charges against Ramos were overturned, dismissed and overturned after she successfully completed a six-month probation period. Buckley claimed she was never convicted. However, Han wrote in his April letter that “parole” should not be considered a conviction.
Buckley said the board’s decision is listed as a “certification revocation,” disqualifying Ramos to serve as a police officer in departments across the country. Ramos has been added to the Cook County State Attorney’s Office’s “Do Not Call” list that prosecutors will not subpoena him to testify in court.
Village curator Gil Mateo and former village chief Benjamin Seals shared their support for Ramos’ testimony after the news conference. State Rep. Abdel Nasser Rashid, D-Berwin, also expressed support for Ramos’ testimony, according to Riverside-Brookfield Landmark.
Also speaking in support of Ramos, State Representative La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, said the SAFE-T Act, which he voted for, should not prevent the board from approving Ramos as a police officer.
“They actually have the ability to see it for what it is, but they choose not to,” Ford said at the news conference.
Left unaddressed, Buckley said the law could affect many officers moving departments in Illinois.
Buckley said the police department will appeal the decision at a meeting of the Training and Standards Board in early September. Meanwhile, Ramos works for the Riverside Corporation but not as a police officer. Buckley said the department maintains an officer position open to it.
Ford said he would work to change Illinois law so that Ramos and the officers could be certified to similar positions if the appeal was unsuccessful.
Ramos, who now has three children and is married to a Cicero police officer, remains hopeful. The past decade spent learning more about the police through school and jobs has led to Riverside.
“That would be what I worked for,” she said.