Misty Gregory, of Woodlawn, was one of those who spoke to the Nashville City Council in support of Greg Hopfinger.
By Alex Haglund
Numerous citizens and others who know dismissed Nashville Police Lieutenant Greg Hopfinger and his wife, police secretary Melissa Hopfinger, attended the meeting of the Nashville City Council meeting held on Thursday, September 7, in a show of support for the Hopfingers and to ask the council about the reasons for their dismissal.
Four people, Cathy Jankowski, Craig Finke, Reverend Scott Sharp, and Misty Gregory were on the agenda to speak regarding the Hopfingers, but before they began, Mayor Erik Rolf stated that all questions and comments would be referred to an attorney that the city retained for the matter, Jim DeFranco, of the Fairview Heights Law Firm of DeFranco and Bradley.
Of all those who spoke, the one who made the most emotional statement was Gregory, of Woodlawn, who recounted the evening of March 1, 2013, “when I lost my nine-year-old son and the father of my children.”
Gregory said that it was an icy evening and following the crash, the first person on the scene was Hopfinger, adding tearily that, “my nine-year-old son took his last breathes in the lap of Lt. Hopfinger.”
Despite the profound loss she experienced, Gregory stated that if it hadn’t been for the efforts of Hopfinger, firefighter Seth Dinkelman, and paramedic Jim Hodge, her daughter Destani Houle, then 12, now 16, who was critically injured, would have also died and her whole family would have been taken from her that night.
Destini shared a bond with Hopfinger, Dinkelman and Hodge since that night, said Gregory, and added, “if you are terminating anyone with a caring heart and demeanor like Greg Hopfinger, you are doing a disservice to your community.”
Jankowski spoke of Hopfinger as her neighbor, but praised him for more recent service than the night Gregory spoke of, saying that after cars in their neighborhood were broken into, even though Hopfinger had already been dismissed, he responded, helping to apprehend the suspect and hold him until officers on duty arrived.
“I’m questioning what happened,” said Jankowski. “Was there an investigation? Who was doing the investigation? Did he know there was an investigation?”
Additionally, Jankowski stated that Ava, the Nashville Police Department’s K-9 dog, who Hopfinger was the handler and trainer for, and who lived with the Hopfingers, was confiscated from him, and as of the night of the meeting, “had been in a cage for 22 days.”
Craig Finke told the council that while he was not a Nashville City resident, his property did have frontage in Nashville, and given its location very near to the city limits, Nashville Police would often be the first to respond to calls in that area anyway.
Finke stated that he sat on a corporate board and if a personnel issue was handled in the business community in the way it was handled by the City of Nashville, “I wouldn’t have a board position.”
Rev. Sharp, Pastor of First Baptist Church in Nashville said, “It’s my understanding that to this date, no explanation as to their firing has been offered. I and other members of this community would like to see the hard evidence and the facts that support this firing.”
Like Finke, Sharp contrasted the situation with the Hopfingers to his own experience, not as a pastor, but as a military man (Sharp is a retired Air Force officer and pilot) and said, “In the military, if I were to act in the way you all have, I would have been court-martialed!”
“Greg and Melissa Hopfinger are the kind of people that we want to have in our community, that we want to have on our police force,” Sharp said.
Statement From DeFranco
DeFranco started off by stating that since this was a personnel matter, he would not be able to disclose many of the things that those present wanted to know.
“Information was brought to the attention of the city. It was investigated thoroughly,” DeFranco said. “The city made its decision based on the review of this evidence.”
DeFranco stated that the specific criteria of the decision to dismiss the Hopfingers could not be disclosed, saying that in Illinois, personnel matters must remain confidential.
“I can assure you,” he said, “that it was not a hasty decision and it involved a significant amount of investigation”
DeFranco’s statements brought more questions from those present, particularly Sharp and Finke, with Sharp asking how long the investigation had been going on, and Finke asking why Hopfinger had not been given a reason for his termination.
“There’s nothing confidential about that,” Sharp said, “Did you tell him why he was fired?”
“Will you be telling him at some point why he was fired, or is he leaving with a two sentence piece of paper saying he is no longer employed?” asked Finke. “It doesn’t make any sense and it stinks to high heaven!”
DeFranco alluded to the possibility of the Hopfingers having retained their own legal counsel over the matter, speaking in hypotheticals, and stated that many of the questions being asked would only be answered via confidential communications in that case.
Others in the crowd present then turned their questions to City Attorney Bill Demoss, asking why DeFranco was hired, and when he was hired. DeFranco said that he would advise Demoss and the city not to answer those questions either, because to do so could violate the confidentiality of this personnel matter.
DeFranco did tell those present that more information on him and his firm could be found on their website, defrancolaw.com, and said that while lawyers were not typically allowed to say that they specialized in certain matters, they did concentrate in specific parts of the legal field, including labor relations and law.