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Sterling firefighter charged with sex crime

City says employee on paid leave

STERLING – A Sterling firefighter was being held Monday on a $300,000 bond after being arrested on a sexual assault charge involving a victim younger than 18.

Philip Johannsen, 36, was in the Whiteside County jail on a felony charge of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. He was arrested Wednesday.

According to a news release from the city of Sterling, a school resource police officer became aware of an allegation of sexual abuse from a student on April 8. After a preliminary investigation determined the suspect was a Sterling firefighter, Illinois State Police were called in to investigate.

Johannsen is on paid leave pending the state police inquiry, said Gary Cook, chief of the Twin City Joint Fire Command. The city is conducting an internal investigation pursuant to the state Firemen's Disciplinary Act, the news release said.

On the same day Johannsen was taken into custody, a woman obtained an emergency order of protection against him, according to Whiteside County's online court records. Johannsen was found guilty of drunken driving in 2001, court records state.

On a regular basis, the state police release reports to the media, but the agency revealed nothing about Johannsen's arrest. A state police official declined comment on the case Monday.

Sauk Valley Media got a tip from a resident about the arrest. When asked about it Monday, Cook issued an already-drafted news release a few minutes later that was labeled "for release upon inquiry."

In 2012, Johannsen was quoted in a story on Quad Cities TV station KWQC, which addressed the issue about whether the Rock Falls and Sterling departments should consolidate.

"We don't see consolidation as being viable," Johannsen, then a union secretary and treasurer, told the station.

Sterling's fire crews, he said, already were understaffed. And he said the departments' shared fire chief was stretched thin, according to the KWQC story.

The departments have since combined their command structures.

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