Citizens crowd meeting; DeWitt police officer reinstated

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After being fired, a DeWitt police officer appealed the township’s decision with the community by his side. More than 75 community members were present to support the officer.

Kelsey Lester

Citizens gather along the walls and outside of the Township Board meeting.

The news came as a shock to Officer Robert Stump and his family on Feb. 17, when he received the notice of his separation of employment after 14 years of service. The next day, his wife, Molly Stump, wrote a letter to the township to fight the “unceremonious” decision. 

Kelsey Lester

Officer Robert Stump raises his hand for his reinstatement.

In January 2020, Stump sustained serious injuries after a woman crashed into his police cruiser at 70 mph. Witnesses said the incident initially appeared to be fatal.

By taking the blow, Stump might have saved lives, as he prevented the driver from going into oncoming traffic. 

“It’s changed my entire life,” Stump said. “It’s changed not only my life but my family’s life.”

Stump’s hips were severely damaged and he is having hip replacement surgery this May. He was given no notice of what his wife calls a termination, leaving the family in despair. 

“You’ve made it clear that this is not a decision informed by his medical status, but your own desires,” Molly Stump said. “Are human assets not as important as financial ones?”

Stump hasn’t been able to be on duty during his recovery, and Township Manager Andrew Dymczyk presumably let him go as part of budget cuts.

“I cannot give you a good answer as to why we didn’t engage in a conversation that was more thorough or thoughtful,” Dymczyk said. “I can only tell you that I feel horrible about it, and I will do better in the future.”

Though his employment has already been extended through March 31, there’s a lot of uncertainty after this date, and supporters are pushing to get his employment extended at least through February 2023. 

The board was unable to offer the extension at the Feb. 28 meeting. That would violate the collective bargaining agreement, which requires the board to meet with the union to make such a decision. They scheduled meetings for March 7 and 14 to try and resolve the issue. 

The only board member to reply to Molly Stump’s letter was Steven Smith, a retired sergeant and friend of the Stumps. Smith said he’ll make sure it gets seen through. 

Still, Barbara Miller, Officer Stump’s mother-in-law, said she’s cautiously optimistic in regard to Stump’s reinstatement. 

Kelsey Lester

Township Supervisor Rick Galardi gets serious in his conversation with Officer Stump.

“I want to believe it,” Miller said. “But it’s hard to have 100% trust after something like this occurred.” 

During the public comment portion of the meeting, citizens noted Officer Stump’s exemplary service and expressed concern for the precedent such a decision would set, saying they shouldn’t have to show up with pitchforks to make a change.  

Specifically, they said people wouldn’t want to enter the police force, and those who did wouldn’t be nearly as qualified as someone like Officer Stump.

Carl Pawluk, a firefighter and witness to the accident, helped pull Stump from his smoking cruiser. 

Pawluk said, “I’ve been a firefighter for a long time. It’s all I’ve wanted to do since high school, but if I fell through a floor tonight and got burned, I can’t tell you that I would come back. That speaks to who this man is – I don’t know this guy – but that’s what heroes do. He still wants to come back, that’s amazing,” said Pawluk. 

Supporters say they hope Stump’s situation will foster change for the better, ensuring service workers are protected and respected.  

“The firefighters, police officers, even public township employees – if you don’t feel someone’s got your back and they’re watching out for your job when you’re doing your job, then they won’t take those jobs,” Miller said. “I think it would impact DeWitt Township badly.” 

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