EAST CHICAGO | An East Chicago police officer — caught on video fondling his genitals and making lewd comments toward the victim of a burglary — has been suspended for six months, city records show.
On Sept. 19, Officer Arcides Santiago responded to a call about a burglary at a home in the 4800 block of Gladiola Street in East Chicago, police records show. He was writing his report in his patrol car when the woman who lives in the home arrived.
During his conversation with the resident, Santiago made sexual comments and massaged his genitals through his clothing, city records state. The resident recorded the officer's actions with her cellphone.
The East Chicago Board of Public Safety found Santiago guilty last month of conduct unbecoming a police officer. The board suspended Santiago for six months without pay and is requiring him to get counseling before returning to the force, city records show.
Neither city officials nor Santiago's attorney, Ivan Bodensteiner, were happy with the board's decision.
Bodensteiner argued Santiago should get a one-month unpaid suspension. Former Police Chief Gus Flores and City Attorney Carla Morgan thought Santiago should be fired for his actions.
Morgan said the board's decision is a blow to the Police Department's effort to clean up its image and improve its service to the community.
"The city has to live with the decision of the board, but the city was very serious in requesting he be terminated," she said.
Under state law, the East Chicago Board of Public Safety must approve any termination or suspension of more than five days.
Board President Richard Morrisroe said it was a single incident, and the board didn't believe Santiago's actions called for termination. He said Santiago's six-month suspension is appropriate for the circumstances of the case.
"We certainly thought it was serious or else we would not have granted the decision we did," Morrisroe said. "It's not a light sentence."
Santiago, who ran for City Council last year, declined to comment, referring all questions to his attorney, Bodensteiner.
Bodensteiner said he would have preferred Santiago get a shorter suspension, but he believes the board's decision was fair.
"The incident is unfortunate," Bodensteiner said. "It is something that obviously should not have happened and something that we agreed deserves some discipline."
East Chicago Police Chief Mark Becker, who took over the department shortly after the board rendered its decision, said the police force may forward its investigation to the Lake County prosecutor's office for consideration of criminal charges. He said Santiago's actions were "inconsistent with the standards of professional law enforcement."
Becker said he has not decided what job Santiago will be assigned after his suspension.
Santiago was transferred to desk duty after the Sept. 19 incident and remained there until the board rendered its decision. He must pass a psychological fitness exam before he can return to work, Board of Public Safety meeting minutes show.
"Mr. Santiago is sorry that it happened," Bodensteiner said. "He will serve his suspension and be back — and hopefully be a better officer."