A true-blue liar and thug

November 10, 2015

The media fairy tale about a fallen police "hero" has unraveled. Nicole Colson explains how activists can put the facts to use against the pro-police backlash.

A HEROIC police officer tragically gunned down in the line of duty: That was the message repeated endlessly by police and the media after the death of Fox Lake, Illinois, Officer Joseph Gliniewicz on September 1. His case was singled out by the right wing to advance the pro-police backlash against the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Only it turned out that the loathsome Gliniewicz was anything but a hero.

Gliniewicz's body was found after the 30-year veteran radioed for support, saying that he was in pursuit of three suspects who he had observed acting suspiciously. The officer had been shot in the torso, and it appeared as though there had been a struggle.

The massive manhunt for the three suspects continued for days, involving hundreds of area cops, at least 48 agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and members of the U.S. Marshals' Fugitive Task Force.

Police celebrated their fallen brother in blue--nicknamed "G.I. Joe"--and the media paid him endless tributes. Hundreds attended his funeral and donated money to Gliniewicz's family. Around the Fox Lake area in suburban Chicago, signs with Gliniewicz's picture appeared on lawns, along with the slogan "Blue Lives Matter." Blame for his death was placed explicitly on anti-police sentiment, supposedly engendered by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Fox Lake police officer Joseph Gliniewicz
Fox Lake police officer Joseph Gliniewicz

But "GI Joe" wasn't the "real American hero" that so many tried to portray him as. As investigators finally admitted in early November, Gliniewicz wasn't even gunned down. He was a thug with a history of serial misconduct who carefully staged his own suicide to look like a murder, after it seemed that his years of embezzling money from a police youth program would be exposed.

According to police officials, Gliniewicz was weeks away from qualifying for retirement when he committed suicide, apparently spurred by an audit of the Fox Lake Explorers police youth program by new Village Administrator Anne Marrin. Gliniewicz apparently feared that Marrin would uncover the $50,000 he had stolen from the program--and used to pay for porn, vacations, a gym membership and other personal expenses.

Authorities now say that Gliniewicz may have intended to plant drugs on Marrin--or worse. Police found cocaine stashed in Gliniewicz's desk and a deleted text message suggesting a plot against Marrin. Gliniewicz is also believed to have set up a meeting with a motorcycle gang member in an attempt to have Marrin killed. Members of his family, including his wife, are now under investigation to determine whether they knew about his crimes.

Three men--Thomas Corso, Preston Shrewsbury and Manuel Vargas--were initially questioned in the case after security video showed them walking in the area where Gliniewicz's body was discovered.

Authorities believe that Gliniewicz, having seen the men earlier, deliberately tried to pin his killing on them with his call for backup and description of the men. Before shooting himself, he shot his pepper spray into the woods and dropped his baton and glasses to suggest a struggle had taken place.

Corso, Shrewsbury and Vargus described being taken into custody by 15 police armed with assault rifles. "I don't sleep at night because I have all these dreams of these cops," Manuel Vargas told ABC 7 News.

Given the hysteria around the case, it's a minor miracle that none of the three suspects was killed or injured. The men were only released when a restaurant receipt proved their alibi--without it, they might very well be behind bars now even as Gliniewicz's story falls apart.

THE MEDIA has changed its tune about Gliniewicz, but it shouldn't be forgotten that the same people were all too happy to lay blame for his death at the feet of the Black Lives Matter movement.

As the Washington Post wrote, "[P]undits, news outlets and advocates quickly lumped his death in with that of Houston Dep. Darren Goforth to blame police critics, Black Lives Matter, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, and just about anyone else who was worried about police brutality for fostering and encouraging a 'war on cops.'"

Two weeks after Gliniewicz's death, Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass wrote about interviewing "a retired Chicago police lieutenant with two sons now on the job" who talked about "the sense that they were all under siege." Days after Gliniewicz's death, a pro-police demonstration in Fox Lake featured signs reading "Police Lives Matter" and "We Stand with Blue."

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz was typical of many on the right, telling reporters, "Cops across this country are feeling the assault...They're feeling the assault from the president, from the top on down as we see, whether it's in Ferguson or Baltimore, the response of senior officials of the president, of the attorney general, is to vilify law enforcement." New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie referred to officers being "hunted" and a culture of "lawlessness."

When questions finally started emerging about Gliniewicz's death, the authorities went on the offensive to silence critics. When Lake County Coroner Thomas Rudd revealed to the media in September that he couldn't rule out a suicide or accident as the cause of death, police officials denounced him for "putting the entire case at risk."

NOW THAT Gliniewicz has been exposed as a fraud and a liar, the same voices that once blamed the Black Lives Matter movement for his death now claim to be "sickened" by Gliniewicz's actions--and imply he led a kind of secret double life.

But in fact, Gliniewicz's reputation for brutality and misconduct was extensively documented--yet he not only remained a cop, but continued to work his way up the ranks. According to ABC News in Chicago, Gliniewicz's 260-page personnel file contains:

numerous incidents, complaints and concerns about him that fly in the face of his well-scrubbed image as a military and law enforcement hero and community leader of young people.

The file portrays him as a chronic womanizer who enjoyed sexual harassment and a chronic drunk. He was also labeled as a brutalizer of suspects and co-workers and someone who misused police department resources.

A 2009 letter from an anonymous group of Gliniewicz's fellow officers to the village mayor included bullet points of his wrongdoing--some allegedly criminal--including:

Suspensions for an inappropriate sexual relationship with a subordinate
-- Sexual harassment of a dispatcher
-- Grabbing women's breasts at department Christmas parties
-- Carousing in bars while on duty with women other than his wife
-- Use of his squad car for family vacations

Even though his fellow officers said they could "no longer stand by and watch Lt. Gliniewicz violate the rules and regulations, policies and procedures, and state statute, and remain silent," nothing was done.

So the idea that Gliniewicz was a hero gunned down in the line of duty should have been suspect from the start--but it took months for the facts to emerge.

THE FACT that there is zero evidence of an increase in violence against police--and certainly not one inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality--will be almost entirely overlooked after Gliniewicz's fall from grace.

Despite the claims that police are under siege, fewer officers are being killed in the line of duty. "So far, 33 police officers have been killed by gunfire this year, a 23 percent decrease from last year, and still on a pace to make 2015 the second safest year for police in at least half a century," the Washington Post reported. "And even that 33 figure includes Gliniewicz, and two officers who were accidentally shot, either by themselves or by another officer."

New York activist Keegan Stephan recently sparked conservative outrage when he pointed out that in at least four police shootings in recent months--Gliniewicz among them--that were used to stoke outrage against Black Lives Matter movement, the officers had entirely fabricated their stories.

US Uncut's Dylan Sevett detailed the cases--including that of Houston cop Terry Smith, who was shot in the back in June. Police Chief Charles McClelland suggested Smith's shooting might have been the result of "tensions between officers and the public in other parts of the country"--but it now appears that Smith was hit by gunfire by another officer.

More recently, two marshals, Lt. Derrick Stafford and Norris Greenhouse Jr., were arrested on charges of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder in the killing of 6-year-old Jeremy Mardis in Marksville, Louisiana.

The marshals claimed they were forced to fire 18 shots when they attempted to serve a warrant on Mardis' father Chris Few. They claim that Few had a gun, and that he threw the car into reverse and attempted to back over them--forcing them to fire into the car, hitting Mardis six times in the head and torso.

Stafford and Greenhouse were only arrested after body camera footage showed Few's hands were in the air when the marshals opened fire. Authorities have since admitted that Few didn't have a weapon--nor can they find a record of the warrant that was supposedly being served on him.

The exposure of Joseph Gliniewicz's crimes, among so many others, won't be the end of the cynical smears against the movement protesting racism and police brutality--but it can help us push back against the idea that cops are valiant public servants who can do no wrong.

Further Reading

From the archives