JOLIET, IL — In one of the strangest events witnessed by this long-time journalist who has covered courts in five states, ex-Crest Hill Police Officer Phil Flores walked out of his Samantha Harer wrongful death lawsuit prove-up hearing Friday before Will County Circuit Judge John Anderson.
Flores fled down the long and narrow carpeted ninth-story hallway, using a stairwell to exit the Will County Courthouse while his hearing in Courtroom 905 continued in his absence.
Moments before his decision, Flores told the judge, “I didn’t do what’s been alleged. My heart goes out to the Harers …”
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World-famous civil rights lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, who joined the proceedings through Zoom, asked the Will County judge to stop Flores’ rambling statement at the start of her evidentiary hearing. Bonjean represents Kevin and Heather Harer, Samantha’s parents.
“Judge, I object,” Bonjean declared, saying she did not want to hear any more comments from Flores talking about the Harers.
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When Anderson put a stop to it, Flores informed the judge he knew where this was going. Flores then announced he would not be staying to hear Bonjean conduct the mini-trial, outlining her evidence suggesting Flores committed first-degree murder by fatally shooting Harer, his estranged girlfriend, inside her Channahon apartment bedroom on Feb. 13, 2018.
“I’m not going to make you stay,” Judge Anderson told Flores.
“I don’t think anything I say is going to change anything,” Flores replied.
Then, Flores got up from his courtroom table and walked out on the judge.
A woman who accompanied Flores to the courtroom, possibly family, then stood in the narrow hallway to block Joliet Patch’s editor from attempting to interview Flores as he darted down the long hallway. He bypassed the group of public elevators and headed for the stairwell on the opposite end of the ninth floor.
“Please, leave him alone,” the woman said, refusing to identify herself to Patch. “Leave him be. It was a thorough investigation. He has suffered enough. He loved her.”
After Friday’s hearing, Joliet Patch reached out to Bonjean, the New York lawyer, for her reaction to Flores fleeing Judge Anderson’s courtroom. Bonjean re-filed her wrongful death lawsuit against Flores last October at the Will County Courthouse after her federal lawsuit against Flores, Channahon police and Crest Hill was dismissed in federal court based on legal technicalities.
“He’s a coward,” Bonjean remarked. “It is disgraceful. Instead of defending the claims alleged in our complaint, he layed down. His refusal to answer our complaint and defend the allegations is an admission. Even if the Crest Hill Police Department was no longer willing to pay for his attorney, he surely had the ability to pay for his own attorney, and he has the smarts, he was a cop after all, to defend himself.
“He did none of that. He ran from the courtroom like the coward he is. He never offered condolences to the Harers. He didn’t attend her funeral. And he won’t even take the stand and tell his story. I think we all know why that is.”
Back in Courtroom 905, from 11 a.m. until 1:15 p.m., Bonjean played for the judge a videotaped police interview of Harer’s next door neighbor, plus she called five witnesses, all over Zoom, who testified in regard to the Feb. 13, 2018 death of the 23-year-old Samantha Harer.
The off-duty 911 emergency dispatcher was employed in Plainfield with WESCOM.
“She was a force. She was independent. She had honor. She had integrity,” her mother Heather Harer testified. As soon as she turned 16, Samantha Harer wanted to work, taking a job at the McDonald’s restaurant, later at the Minooka Public Library where her mom worked.
She graduated from Minooka Community High School and the University of St. Francis in Joliet. She interned at Channahon’s Police Department prior to her graduation.
“Her junior year (of college), she decided she wanted to pursue being a dispatcher,” Heather Harer told the judge. “She really loved her job.”
In December 2018, Channahon’s Police Department issued a news release indicating Samantha Harer’s death was ruled a suicide, that she had died of a self-inflicted gunshot.
On Friday, Bonjean asked if Heather Harer’s daughter ever expressed during high school or college anything about harming herself.
“Never,” she answered.
Any mental health disorders or behavior that gave her mother concern, such as depression?
“Did she ever say she was going to kill herself to you?”
At age 22, in March 2017, Samantha Harer found her own apartment, moving into Channahon’s Bridge Street apartments, about two miles from her parents. She was their only child.
“At some point, did you meet a person by the name of Phil Flores?” Bonjean asked.
Heather Harer recalled that the Crest Hill police officer was 10 years older than her daughter, and he was divorced.
Although she was a little nervous about the romance, Heather Harer testified Friday, “I give everyone a chance. She brought him over and stayed 15 to 20 minutes. He was polite, but I was concerned with the age difference of 10 years and him getting divorced.”
Heather Harer told the judge about a time when Samantha Harer and her best friend Taylor went to a Chicago Cubs game with Flores driving.
“Taylor was scared for her life … complaining about Flores just driving like a maniac … she texted her mother that he was insane,” Heather Harer testified.
Over time, Harer’s relationship with her best friend started to strain because of a lack of back and forth communication.
Come to find out, “he was deleting all her texts with Taylor,” Heather Harer told the judge.
Eventually, Samantha Harer discovered Flores “was in all her electronics, monitoring everything,” her mother testified.
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As 2017 drew to a close, the romance “fizzled out,” but Flores still stopped by to see Samantha.
“He squatted at her apartment,” Heather Harer testified. “He worked the 6 to 6 shift. He would stay all night” bring over his “dry-cleaning uniform. Eat her food. Eat in her living room. Just basically slob the place up.”
By January 2018, Flores invited her to move in with him “and she was skeptical about living together,” her mother testified. “She told me he was going to try to purchase a town home. She didn’t want any responsibility for this town home and for him.”
The night of Feb. 11 was the last time the mother and daughter spent time together. Heather Harer stayed the night at her daughter’s apartment. On Feb. 13, the day she died, Samantha Harer was off work, and she had scheduled a tattoo appointment for 3 p.m., according to her meticulous event calendar that she kept.
“She was optimistic. She had an address book with all that down,” her mother testified. “No, not at all depressed.”
When Heather Harer left her daughter’s apartment on the morning of Feb. 12, 2018, she hugged her daughter as she always did and said, “Goodbye, my beauty.”
Heather Harer was not aware of any Valentine’s Day plans involving her daughter and Flores.
“Did she tell you anything about Phil was coming over?” Bonjean inquired.
As Friday’s hearing continued in Flores’ absence, Bonjean presented the judge with several exhibits, including police photos of a laundry basket found in Harer’s apartment that had smears of blood. Bonjean also gave the judge a written transcript in which Flores insisted he was not inside Harer’s bedroom when her gun discharged.
Samantha Harer had a FOID card and a Concealed Carry Permit, her father Kevin testified.
Judge Anderson also saw death-scene photos of Harer’s bedsheets in disarray, which was totally uncharacteristic of how she kept her bedroom, her mother testified.
Another death-scene photo showed a large dent in the wall of Harer’s bedroom.
“It looks like something was thrown against the wall,” Heather Harer testified.
Bonjean asked if the wall dent was there when Heather Harer spent the night sleeping on her daughter’s bed on Feb. 11, 2018.
“I’m confident it was not there,” she testified.
On the afternoon of Feb. 13, 2018, Heather Harer testified she collapsed at work when Channahon Police Chief Shane Casey, accompanied by a minister, broke the news of her daughter’s death.
“It was like the whole world went quiet, and I had a lot of support, but it was just devastating to everyone … My coworkers had to go through a seminar on grief because of it … I don’t think it’ll ever be easy. I think talking about the funny, goofy things she did … the laughter and the funny things help us out a little bit. It’s just devastated my world. I thought she would be in life my forever.”
Bonjean asked if Flores ever called Heather Harer to offer his condolences surrounding Samantha Harer’s death?
“No,” she testified.
Heather Harer was asked if Flores ever called or spoke with her to explain what happened inside the apartment when Samantha Harer died of a gunshot wound while he was also there?
“Did he call and say that this is what happened?”
“Did he attend the funeral?”
Check back with Joliet Patch on Monday for another story from Friday’s prove-up hearing. Friday included live courtroom testimony from Channahon firefighter-paramedic Danial Grubisich, Illinois State Police bloodstain analyst Cary Morin, Dr. Karl Reich, a world-renowned DNA expert from Lombard, and Kevin Harer, father of Samantha Harer.
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