Teary-Eyed Ex-Tinley Cop Gets Probation for DUI Hit and Run
At his sentencing hearing, John Leonard apologized for having struck another car in Frankfort last year and sped off. The judge sentenced Leonard to the minimum punishment, which includes classes and counseling.
John Leonard held back the tears as long as he could. After apologizing on Friday to all the people he hurt as a result of a drunken hit-and-run accident last May, the former Tinley Park cop sat down and awaited the court’s mercy.
He was sentenced to 30 months of probation on felony charges that could have locked him up for seven years.
Leonard, 38, was driving an unmarked police car with an open glass of Guinness and a handgun between his legs on May 1, 2011, around 1 a.m., when he rear-ended another car at LaGrange Road and Lincolnway Lane in Frankfort and sped off.
He was later stopped in New Lenox and reportedly taunted local police officers, saying, “So what?” in reference to the pistol in plain view, “I’m a Tinley cop.”
He entered into a blind plea deal last month for charges of driving under the influence, leaving the scene of an accident and failure to report an accident involving personal injury.
Although Judge Edward Burmila, Jr., called Leonard’s actions “unsettling, almost reprehensible” for having “dishonored himself and (police) officers generally,” he found the maximum penalty too severe in light of “the totality of facts.”
Leonard has no criminal background, the judge pointed out, and a court-ordered evaluation determined that his abuse of alcohol was a direct cause of the crash. DUI victim-impact courses and substance abuse counseling are a part of his probation, Burmila said.
Michael Murphy of Chicago, one of the men in the car Leonard struck, who walked stiffly and slowly to the witness stand, said he cannot stand now for more than 10 minutes at a time without spasms in his back and spine. As he was strapped and carried off by paramedics, he said, he managed to tell police officers with his eyes which way Leonard’s car had gone.
“This man, John Leonard, left us for dead,” Murphy said. "He had no regard for human life. As a result of his actions, I will have to go through (physical) therapy for the rest of my life.”
He said he has a separate civil lawsuit in the works against Leonard and the Village of Tinley Park.
Leonard is “not a perfect person,” his attorney, Steven Haney, said, but he had been an “exemplary police officer” for 13 years prior. Haney said his client is in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings and has been unable to find work since his arrest.
“On that night, I failed not only myself but my family and my community,” Leonard said, fighting a lump in his throat.
If Leonard completes probation without any violations, Haney said after the hearing, the felony charges are eligible to be vacated from his record.