Samatha Grace Harer, 23 February 13, 2018 Channahon, Will County, Illinois
Samantha Harer was in
a relationship with then-Crest Hill Police Officer Phil Flores. Samantha was a dispatcher for WESCOM. February 13, 2018. He called 911 and claimed that they got in a fight and she killed herself. It seems as though Samantha did not have any gun residue on her, but Flores did. Flores however claimed he was not in the room when she shot herself and came in to the room after he heard the gun shot. When they arrived at the apartment, Samantha was found naked and deceased. Flores was fully dressed. A neighbor stated they heard commotion in the apartment and someone saying “Let me go” several times prior to the gun shot. "We were arguing," Flores said, according to Ortiz's story in The Herald-News. "She told me to leave. I left. I heard her gun rack. She locked herself in the bedroom, and she pulled the trigger and I came busting in."
Another report against Flores comes to light over an accusation from another woman that reported he allegedly raped while she was asleep in February 2016, to years prior to Samantha’s death. No charges were filed. Samantha’s death was ruled a suicide.. Harer’s family insists she did not kill herself regardless of what the Coroner and Channahon Police say. Samantha’s death is now moving up to the federal judge and jury, claiming that law enforcement engaged in police misconduct by orchestrating a sham investigation. Flores no longer actively worked at the police department but continued collecting a check drumming up to $90,000 in just over a year, and effectively gave his resignation, but not before learning the department was investigating him.
Reporter John Ferak of The Patch news created a timeline of events in Samantha’s case. The following is a direct copy of their report. Tuesday, Feb. 13 Authorities learn off-duty WESCOM dispatcher Samantha Harer was shot in the head in Channahon. Her estranged boyfriend, off-duty Crest Hill Police Officer Phil Flores, claims she shot herself after an argument. Harer lived at the Bridge Street Apartments, 25731 W. Bridge St. Wednesday, Feb. 14 Joliet Patch produces an in-depth article, headlined, "Crest Hill Cop On Paid Leave Amid Channahon Death Probe." Patch reports that a former Crest Hill resident obtained a protection order against Officer Phil Flores accusing him of raping her while she was sleeping on Feb. 6, 2016. Kristen Kurtz tells Joliet Patch she is comfortable with having her name published in a story about Flores. Kurtz "filed a report on Phillip and the rape against me. Pictures were taken and bedding was taken from my home," the court documents read. Thursday, Feb. 15 A Bolingbrook police sergeant and Shorewood's deputy chief interview a Plainfield officer asking whether he and Harer were currently dating or had a prior dating relationship. The Plainfield officer was also asked about Flores. The Plainfield officer says he spent time with Harer outside work a couple years ago, but had not seen her for nearly six months. "In all his contacts with Harer, he never (had) any odd conversations in which Harer threatened to hurt, injure herself or anything that would have led him to believe Harer was a danger to herself. If he thought she was in danger, he would have gotten Harer help," police reports reflect. Monday, Feb. 19 A follow-up Patch article is headlined, "Channahon 911 Dispatcher Was Murdered, Parents Believe." Kevin and Heather Harer say the day after their daughter died, Channahon Police Chief Shane Casey and Detective Andrew McClellan visited their house, ready to close the case. "They said based on the 911 call and the text messages between Samantha and Phil, they had determined that her death was a suicide. It was Chief Casey who said that," Heather Harer says. Monday, March 12 The parents of Samantha Harer say they remain in the dark and still have no official cause or manner of death from the Will County Coroner Patrick O'Neil. Officer Flores, meanwhile, remains on paid suspension. "We are hoping that the police are on this, working hard, but it is Will County. This is Drew Peterson land," Harer's mother, Heather, told Patch. "None of us in this county have forgotten that." Monday, April 2 "911 Dispatcher's Gun Death Still Open, 7 Weeks Later," Patch reports. The same article reports that no charges were ever filed against Flores following the 2016 rape allegation, though he did get a month-long unpaid suspension, but was reinstated to Crest Hill's police force. Tuesday, April 10 The lone member of the Illinois State Police summoned to Channahon after the Harer shooting, Sgt. Cary Morin, finishes his blood-stain analysis reports. He indicates that he arrived at 1:40 p.m. Yet the logs from the scene indicate Morin did not enter Harer's apartment until 3:05 p.m. Morin's report reveals he was briefed by Detective McClellan. "The victim, while standing in the offset area of the bedroom near the door, facing east, suffered a perforating contact gunshot wound to the right side of the head," Morin noted. "The bedroom door was closed, either completely or mostly, evident by the bloodstain patterns located on the bedroom side of the door. The size of the offset area, along with the bloodstain patterns present and bullet trajectory suggest that the victim was standing alone in the bedroom offset area at the time of the incident." Tuesday, April 17 The University of St. Francis Encounter student newspaper publishes an article headlined, "Samantha Harer's death still a mystery 8 weeks later." The student journalist writes: "Her parents obviously suspect Flores, and from the view of an outsider, it sure seems that he may be guilty. The case hasn't been conclusively proven to be a suicide. The fact that the rape allegations never became a criminal charge makes it look like Flores is being protected by the police force." Harer graduated from St. Francis in 2016 with a bachelor's in criminal justice. Tuesday, July 10 Nearly six months after Harer dies, Channahon's lead detective submits the sweatshirt of Flores to the Illinois State Police's Forensic Science Center in Chicago.
Saturday, July 14 Nationally accredited forensic scientist Mary Wong of the Illinois State Police Forensic Science Center in Chicago finds a minimum of three tri-component primer gunshot residue particles from the February GSR tests performed on Flores' right hand. She also examines the samples taken from Harer's hands at the hospital, but finds no primer gunshot residue particles on Harer's hands. "The results ... indicate that (Flores) discharged a firearm, contacted a PGSR related item or had his right hand in the environment of a discharged firearm," Wong writes. Wednesday, Aug. 29 Wong finishes her forensic exam of the Flores sweatshirt. She finds primer gunshot residue particles on his right cuff, left cuff and chest area. Her report is sent to two of Will County State's Attorney Jim Glasgow's chief assistants, Mike Fitzgerald, and Chris Koch. Sunday, Oct. 14 The Joliet Herald-News reports "Lawyer in Dispatcher Death Lawsuit Suspended." Just one day after filing a federal lawsuit on behalf of the Harers, Chicago attorney Scott Kamin's law license was suspended for 90 days. Also, Kamin did not notify Harer's parents that his license law was being suspended when they hired him. To get rid of Kamin, the Harers decide their only recourse is to drop their federal lawsuit. Thursday, Oct. 31 McClellan submits the sexual assault evidence kit collected at the time of Harer's death to the Joliet Forensic Science Laboratory. Channahon's detective, however, only wants selective testing done. Wednesday, Nov. 20 Bill Cheng of the Joliet Forensic Science Laboratory completes the sexual assault kit testing and finds no semen present on the vaginal swabs, anal oral swabs and anal swabs. However, Channahon had not asked him to examine Harer's head hair combings, the pubic hair combings, fingernail combings, pulled head hair and pulled pubic hair. "If at a later date it is determined that the value of this evidence can significantly aid the case, please advise," Cheng writes. Thursday, Dec. 13 Will County's State's Attorney staff asks Channahon to re-interview the night-shift Plainfield officer who knew Harer. The officer considered Harer a "very positive person, funny, good person and flirtatious," reports state. The officer denied any intimate relationship with Harer, saying he is "happily married." The Plainfield officer told Channahon investigators "he has saved to his phone additional text conversations between him and Harer. He stated the majority are work related however, there are a few that were made during off-duty hours. He denied any of these texts would reveal a relationship beyond coworkers or friends." Wednesday, Dec. 19 The bullet that kills Harer went through her Channahon apartment wall back in February. Now, 10 months later, the Will County State's Attorney Office directs Channahon to look for the missing bullet. The one-day search occurs on one of the shortest days of the year. Seven officers canvass a number of Channahon property lots with five metal detectors. "No bullet projectiles or fragments of bullet projectiles were located. No defects were found in any tree or wooded brush consistent with projectile strike, nor was any bullet projectile or fragments of bullet projectiles found in any tree or wood brush," Channahon Deputy Chief Adam Bogart wrote. Saturday, Dec. 22 Will County Sheriff's Office crime scene photographer Maurice Horn produces his written incident summary, 10 months and nine days later. The Will County CSI photographer opines that Harer killed herself. "With the blood patterns on the wall and floor we could approximate how the decedent came to rest on the floor. The blood spatter evidence was consistent with this being a self-inflicted wound to the head made by a right-handed person," Horn writes. Friday, Dec. 28 Harer's parents learn their daughter's death is being classified a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Later that afternoon, Channahon Deputy Chief Adam Bogart's press release stated: "The Channahon Police Department in conjunction with the Major Crimes Task Force and the Will County State's Attorney's Office conducted a comprehensive death investigation spanning over 10 months, involving multiple law enforcement agencies. "The Will County Coroner has determined that Samantha's cause of death was by a self-inflicted gunshot wound," Bogart's press release stated. "That finding is consistent with, and supported by the evidence presented by this multi-jurisdictional investigation." Crest Hill Police Chief Ed Clark issues a press release complimenting Channahon for conducting a "lengthy and thorough investigation from which (Officer Phil Flores) was cleared from any criminal involvement in the death of Samantha Harer ... We acknowledge the length of time involved in conducting a complete and thorough and transparent examination of the facts surrounding this case and support the process to review Officer Flores' association." Crest Hill's press release is headlined, "Investigation Clears Crest Hill Police Officer and Officer Resumes Administrative Duties."
2019 Thursday, Jan. 17 Patch publishes an article headlined, "911 Call From Samantha Harer Gunshot Death." The same article reports that Crest Hill is still not ready to bring Flores back to regular work even though Channahon announced three weeks earlier that Harer's death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Tuesday, Jan. 29 Joliet Patch reports previously undisclosed information: a number of forensic tests surrounding the Feb. 13, 2018 gunshot wound to Samantha Harer's head raise questions about whether the 23-year-old WESCOM dispatcher took her own life. Additionally, a next door neighbor of Harer was awoken perhaps between 8 and 8:15 a.m. on the morning of the fatal shooting "by someone banging on the wall or someone slamming the door in the apartment next door, which is the victim's apartment. He then heard (the) female yell, 'Let me go" two or three times coming from the same apartment," a Bolingbrook Police detective's 2018 report showed. Saturday, Feb. 2 WLS-AM 890's weekly radio show, The POPO REPORT, devotes several minutes of Chicago airtime to discuss the questionable circumstances of Samantha Harer's death. "And she had a boyfriend, and he was a Crest Hill Police officer. And this relationship was not going well, at all," co-host Paul Ciolino tells listeners. "And he's the one that, he's present when she allegedly shoots herself." Wednesday, Feb. 20 Brooklyn, N.Y. civil rights attorney, Jennifer Bonjean, who is licensed to practice law in Illinois, asks a federal judge in Chicago to revive the recently dismissed federal lawsuit that named Channahon, Crest Hill and Officer Flores as co-defendants. Patch's article is headlined, "Samantha Harer Found Nude, Had Unexplained Injuries: Lawyer." "On January 29, 2019, Plaintiffs were devastated to learn that the law enforcement officials who had investigated Samantha's death flat-out lied to them. John Ferak, a reporter for the Joliet Patch published an article based on documents received through FOIA requests that strongly suggests that Samantha's manner of death was not suicide but rather homicide," Bonjean's federal filing states. Wednesday, Feb. 27 Joliet's law firm of Mahoney, Silverman and Cross files nearly 50 pages in federal court to support the Channahon Police Chief's contention that Samantha Harer took her own life. Patch's article is headlined, "Samantha Harer Surely Shot Herself: Joliet Law Firm." "With regard to the positive (primer gunshot residue) test on Flores, it has been suggested that this could have been the result of him being in the room where the gun was discharged immediately after Samantha was shot. This would be consistent with his statement that he was in the room with Samantha immediately after she was shot and lifted her head at some point," defendant lawyer Jim Murphy argues. Friday, March 22 Crest Hill Police Chief Ed Clark tells Joliet Patch that Flores is no longer with his police department. Flores never worked a single day as a police officer in the aftermath of his girlfriend's gunshot death. He collected more than $90,000 in paid suspension over 13 months. "In the midst of an internal investigation into Officer Phil Flores' conduct following his clearance in the death investigation of Samantha Harer, Officer Flores tendered his resignation," Clark's statement read. "We accept his resignation which is effective immediately." Thursday, April 4, Patch Editor John Ferak publishes an opinion column comparing the similarities in the March 2004 death of Bolingbrook resident Kathleen Savio, who was murdered by Bolingbrook Police Sgt. Drew Peterson, and the February 2018 death of Samantha Harer in Channahon. Her boyfriend, Crest Hill Police Officer Phil Flores, was not charged with her death, just like Drew Peterson was not charged with his ex-wife Savio's death back in 2004. Wednesday, May 8, Patch reveals that despite him being publicly cleared in the Harer case, privately, Crest Hill's Police Department was building a case to bring Officer Phil Flores' cop career to an end with Crest Hill. On March 14, Flores learns he is being brought up on 11 separate alleged violations of Crest Hill policy and state laws. Flores gets notified the termination hearing would occur in six days. He chooses to resign instead. Tuesday, May 28 A federal judge in Chicago allows Brooklyn, N.Y. civil rights attorney Jennifer Bonjean to re-file a civil rights police misconduct lawsuit on behalf of Harer's parents. "Defendant Flores falsely claimed that he busted into the bedroom and observed Samantha unconscious with a gunshot wound to her head; her gun laying between her legs," Bonjean states in her 20-page filing. "Even after the 911 operator suggested that Flores start CPR, he declined, stating that she wasn't breathing and that he could see brain matter." Sunday, June 9 Rachel Shannon publishes a 25-minute true-crime podcast called The Case of Samantha Harer: Police Cover-Up? "This is probably one of the cases that hits home to me the most ... she went to high school with my sister ... because this case happened in such a small town in Illinois, this case just hasn't gotten the exposure that it deserves so I decided to go ahead and share with you her story," Rachel Shannon informs everyone. Her YouTube video now has more than 29,100 views. Monday, June 10, A Patch column reveals that prior to Harer's death in 2018, there were a total of 114 gunshot suicides in Will County between 2013 and 2017, of which 105 were done by males. That means there were only nine total gunshot suicides in Will County between 2013-2017, an average of less than two female gunshot deaths per year. Wednesday, June 12 Attorney Bonjean accuses Channahon Police Chief Shane Casey, Deputy Police Chief Adam Bogart and lead detective Andrew McClellan, of orchestrating a cover-up and conducting a faulty police investigation to ensure Harer's February 2018 death was not treated as a homicide. Bonjean asks a federal judge in Chicago to let her amend her deprivation of civil rights lawsuit to include three high-ranking members of Channahon's Police Department as co-defendants. Monday, July 22 Channahon Suffers Defeat In Samantha Harer Lawsuit Ruling, Patch reports. The federal judge in Chicago sides with the lawyer for Harer's parents and lets them add Chief Casey, Deputy Chief Bogart and Detective McClellan as co-defendants. "Each of these defendants have engaged in conduct that has hindered the Plaintiffs' ability to obtain adequate, effective and meaningful judicial access," Bonjean argues. She suspects the three Channahon officials were conspiring from the outset to make sure Flores was not arrested in connection with his girlfriend's death. Monday, Aug. 26 Court documents in the Harer family's federal lawsuit indicate that the earliest date the lawyers would be ready for trial is September of 2021. The probable length of trial is 6-8 weeks. Jennifer Bonjean and Ashley Cohen are the plaintiff's attorneys for Kevin and Heather Harer, the parents of Samantha Harer. Sunday, Sept. 8 At least 80 people attend Sunday's first-ever Samantha Harer Scholarship Luncheon at the University of St. Francis where Harer graduated in the Class of 2016. "And at the end of the day, we're going to get justice for Samantha. I guarantee it. And I stand up here as somebody who's been doing this for over 40 years now. And I can tell you I know when we can win a case ... and in this case we have a tremendous amount of facts to support, frankly, she was murdered," one of the event's speakers Paul Ciolino told the audience. Monday, Oct. 7 Patch publishes an in-depth article headlined, "Samantha Harer Case: CSI Work Faces Serious Scrutiny." According to the report, Illinois State Police, Sgt. Cary Morin, Will County Sheriff's Office crime scene photographer Maurice Horn, Will County Sheriff's Crime Scene Investigations Sgt. Jeremy Zdzinicki , all had key roles in helping Channahon Detective Andrew McClellan steer the investigation of Harer's death to a finding of suicide, rather than homicide. Thursday, Nov. 14 U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman issued his long-awaited pretrial ruling, rejecting attempts by Channahon, Crest Hill and Flores to dismiss the federal lawsuit brought against them by the Harers. "The Channahon defendants should stop wasting private and judicial resources by repeating arguments that this court has already rejected and start litigating this case on the merits," Judge Gettleman wrote in his 16-page ruling. Monday, Nov. 25 Following a Freedom of Information Act request to the village, Patch reports that Channahon's municipal law firm, Mahoney, Silverman and Cross of Joliet had billed Channahon for about $24,800 in legal expenses strictly related to its work pertaining to the Harer case litigation for the months of July, August and September. On several occasions, the law firm has billed Channahon for reading news articles about the case in Joliet Patch and The Joliet Herald-News.
The Herald News reported that Samantha's friends and co-workers at the Channahon Police Department and the Western Will County Communication Center planted this tree in her memory and honor. It is a Royal Star Magnolia tree planted just north of the Police Department building in which several first responders donated.
Samantha Grace Harer Samantha Grace Harer passed away on February 13, 2018, at the age of 23. Samantha graduated from the University of St. Francis in 2016 where she studied criminal justice and was a member of the Alpha Phi sorority. Her interest in the justice field led her to become an emergency dispatcher, serving her community and the surrounding area. Samantha is survived by her parents Heather and Kevin Harer and her loving grandmother Grace. She was preceded by her beloved grandfather Leonard. Samantha will be remembered for her bold spirit, her love of family, and her passion for animals, even ones of dubious cuteness like hedgehogs and that for her adorable kitten Salem. She will be celebrated in a private service by family only, but friends and other loved ones are encouraged to honor her by donating to Help Save Pets, 14411 S. Rt. 59, Plainfield, Illinois 60544 in memory of Samantha Grace.
Published in The Herald-News on Feb. 18, 2018.