SOUTH BEND — Five years ago, Christopher Bortone stepped across the stage at Ivy Tech State College to accept the South Bend Police Department’s highest honor — the Officer of the Year award.
Bortone, the year before, in 2006, had ended a string of dozens of arsons on the southeast side. His work led to the suspect being linked to multiple other hate-crime-related blazes and eventually his conviction, which led to Bortone’s honor in 2007.
“This type of outstanding police work has become the norm for this fine officer,” Capt. Terry Young, who officiated the ceremony, said at the time. “He constantly ranks among the best on his shift for production.”
Fast forward to June 2012 and Bortone’s Officer of the Year award may seem like a distant memory.
The officer is now up for termination.
Interim Police Chief Chuck Hurley made that recommendation to the South Bend Board of Public Safety earlier this week, alleging Bortone violated department policy — his third such infraction in less than two years.
Bortone, a patrolman first class who was sworn in November 2002, has a unique history of both commendation and disciplinary action at the South Bend Police Department.
Aside from his Officer of the Year award, he also received Lifesaving Awards at both the 2010 and 2011 annual police awards ceremonies.
But more recently, his work has caught the ire of the department’s administration.
The recent case is related to a larceny Bortone responded to on March 31 at the Meijer on Portage Avenue.
Bortone was reportedly given suspect information and a vehicle description. When questioned about the incident on June 3, though, Bortone said he sent a mobile data terminal message to other officers in the area with the suspect and vehicle description. However, a search of any transmittals sent by Bortone that day found nothing about a message sent to other officers, according to the charges Hurley filed.
Bortone is also alleged to have lied about notifying the Walmart loss prevention department about what had happened at the Meijer store. A Walmart manager later notified police that Bortone had not come to the store.
Hurley presented the charges to the board on Wednesday. Bortone has five days to respond before the board makes a vote on his future.
Hurley declined to speak about the case until it was concluded, but added he had not heard as of Friday whether the officer would challenge his recommendation. Bortone could not be reached for comment.
In April, Bortone was suspended 15 days without pay for allegedly driving his squad car while on duty to Mishawaka for personal reasons.
The incident reportedly occurred Dec. 15 while Bortone was working his beat on the city’s west side. It is unclear why he drove to Mishawaka. The charges include failing to notify a supervisor that he was out of his assigned duty area and for not obeying the orders of a superior officer.
Also, in February 2011, the officer accepted a 30-day unpaid suspension for allegedly stealing the temporary license plate off his ex-wife’s car.
In that incident, Bortone was accused of driving to his ex-wife’s place of employment in November 2010 in his department-issued police car and removing the tag.
A week later, according to a past Tribune report, the department’s internal affairs investigator questioned Bortone about the incident and told him not to contact his ex-wife about the matter while it was still under investigation.
According to the charges filed by former chief Darryl Boykins, Bortone violated that order twice by asking his ex-wife to ask the internal affairs investigator to drop the charges.
Staff writer Tom Moor: