STERLING – Sterling police detective Michael Henry pleaded guilty Wednesday to a misdemeanor charge of battery that stemmed from his involvement in a bar fight in August with a 28-year-old Rock Falls man.
Before she handed down the sentence, Judge Carol Pentuic, who came down from Rock Island County to preside in the case, said that as a police officer, Henry should be held to a higher standard. She then sentenced him to 12 months of court supervision and a $300 fine.
It’s a sentence, the judge said, that’s harsher than what she would give to any other “Joe” on the street. The average person would likely get 6 months of supervision and a $100 fine, she said.
Henry apologized for his behavior.
“I made a series of poor decisions at Johnny’s Bar that night that I truly regret,” he said.
Henry appeared in court with his attorney, Daniel Huffman; the state was represented by Tom Brown, appellate prosecutor for the state’s attorney. The victim in the fight was not present.
During the course of Wednesday’s hearing, Brown read off a factual basis for the plea, including a detailed description of the events that occurred on the night of Aug. 10, as well as what happened during the course of the investigation.
On that night, Brown said, a state police trooper overheard radio traffic about a fight at Johnny’s Bar and Grill, and that when he arrived on the scene, several Sterling officers were already there. The police had been called, Brown said, when a fight broke out between an off-duty Henry and another man.
What started as a verbal confrontation turned physical when Henry came up to the man from behind and hit him “with an open fist.” The man was knocked unconscious when his head struck a wall.
The victim was taken to CGH Medical Center where, Brown said, the man’s medical bill amounted to about $10,000. After being treated, he was removed from CGH by Sterling police for his unruly behavior, Brown said.
Henry was taken to the Whiteside County Jail, where he was booked and released.
Brown said the fight started when Henry and his girlfriend entered the bar after being at a wedding together, and they saw her former boyfriend. The ex-boyfriend started talking about his relationship with Henry’s girlfriend in a provocative manner, Brown said.
“I believe [Henry’s] training and responsibilities would’ve dictated him not to respond to the situation like he did,” Brown said.
Sterling police Lt. Tim Morgan then took the stand and testified to Henry’s character, saying that, as far as he was aware, Henry had never had disciplinary problems and that he expresses his remorse to Morgan “almost on a daily basis.”
“He’s a very good officer,” Morgan said.
Since charges were filed, Morgan said, Henry has been essentially relieved of all police duties and has worked in a purely administrative role.
“He realized that he made a mistake,” Morgan said. “And in my opinion, it was a split-second bad decision that he made.”
Morgan also agreed with Brown that police officers should be held to a higher standard.
Henry then read a statement before Judge Pentuic handed down her sentence.
“I know and understand that as a police officer, I’m held to a higher standard, ...” the officer said. “The actions that night at Johnny’s are not a reflection of who I am or the agency that I represent. ... I am truly sorry for my lapse of judgment.”
The judge told Henry he could have easily avoided the fight.
“When I have someone who’s in law enforcement, who’s been trained to defuse situations ...” Pentuic said. “Quite frankly, with your training, you should’ve been able to walk away.”
In addition to court supervision and a fine, Henry will also be responsible for any restitution decided later, and will undergo alcohol and anger management evaluations. He also can’t have alcohol during the next year or enter any establishment that’s primary business is selling alcohol.
If Henry is fully reinstated as an officer, he can enter a bar for work purposes, the judge said.
Morgan said that an administrative review will now be scheduled to decide Henry’s role with the department. He was unsure when that would happen.