This Nov. 5, 2004, file photo shows Jeff Pelo, then a 41-year-old Bloomington police sergeant, working at the scene of a shooting at the Beauty N-U Barbershop Salon at 812 W. Locust St., Bloomington. Less than two years later, he was accused of sexually assaulting for women and now is serving a 375-year prison sentence.

BLOOMINGTON — If it happened today, the discovery of former Bloomington police Sgt. Jeff Pelo lurking outside a woman's home would not be investigated by his peers at the city police department.

A new state law requires police agencies to request assistance from another agency when an officer is accused of sexual assault while on-duty. Bloomington and Normal have each adopted new policies and the McLean County Sheriff's Department is developing its new procedure to meet the state mandate.

The painstaking investigation launched by Bloomington police in 2006 involving multiple sexual assaults and stalking charges against Pelo would be turned over to the Illinois State Police under the city's new policy. Pelo was sentenced to 375 years on the charges. 

Although the crimes took place while the former police sergeant was off-duty, much of the information Pelo used to stalk his victims was gathered during work hours.

"Under the new law, once we became aware the suspect was an officer, we would have to refer it to another agency," said Assistant Police Chief Clay Wheeler, one of the investigators who worked on the Pelo case. 

Illinois and other states have reacted to reports of officers who have faced little or no consequences for sexual assault by passing similar new laws. A 2015 Associated Press report found cases in 41 states involving 500 officers who were decertified for sex-related allegations involving on-duty conduct.

No other cases of sexual crimes involving Bloomington, Normal or McLean County sheriff's police officers have been reported since the Pelo case. 

Bloomington Police Chief Brendan Heffner said a request for outside assistance helps agencies avoid any claims of bias. 

Normal police also refer allegations of officer-involved sexual assaults to state police.

"The new policy provides clarification for the supervisors and for administration," said Normal Police Chief Rick Bleichner, adding that the outside review "is beneficial because there could still be a question about favoritism."  

The sex crimes policy differs from rules governing sexual harassment complaints against police officers and other public employees in the workplace. 

Heffner, who was investigated and cleared in a 2015 sexual harassment complaint, said sexual harassment claims against officers are forwarded to the department's Office of Professional Standards in addition to the city's human resource office. 

The chief said department employees are trained in how to report sex harassment claims. 

"It doesn't matter if it's the chief or who it is. The city has a policy to address it," said Heffner, who is awaiting a vote by the Senate on his nomination for U.S. marshal for the central district of Illinois.

The 2015 allegation against Heffner was deemed unfounded after a review that also included review by legal counsel.

According to the final investigation report released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Pantagraph, Lt. Paul Williams brought the allegation to the human resources department and Wheeler reviewed surveillance video from an area of the department "since allegations had been made alleging inappropriate contact."

Wheeler told The Pantagraph recently that the video contained no evidence to support sexual harassment. The assistant chief said he played no other role in the investigation beyond his review of the video.

The report recommended additional sexual harassment training for two employees who were allegedly involved in a conversation where the accusations against Heffner surfaced. 

The investigation involving Heffner was the only employee complaint received by the city during the past three years, according to the results of the records search.

No sexual harassment complaints have been lodged against Bleichner, Sandage or officers in the Normal and county departments during the time frame.

Bleichner said employees are urged to report harassment allegations to their supervisor but a policy exists for alternative contacts if the supervisor could be involved in the complaint.   

An accusation against the police chief would not be reviewed within the department but passed to the city manager's office, said Bleichner.

An allegation involving the sheriff would be reviewed outside the department, said Sandage "to make sure there's no hint of bias."

All three police agencies provide sexual harassment training for employees.

Follow Edith Brady-Lunny on Twitter: @pg_blunny


McLean County Courts Reporter

McLean County courts reporter for The Pantagraph.

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