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Humbles v. Bd. of Fire & Police Comm'rs





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Du Page County; the Hon. BRUCE FAWELL, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied November 18, 1977.

The plaintiff, Jerry R. Humbles, appeals from a judgment of the circuit court which affirmed the decision of the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners of the City of Wheaton discharging him from his duties as a police officer. The officer was found guilty of two charges arising from what we view as a single incident. He was charged with willfully departing from the truth in an official matter and failing to obey a lawful order of a superior officer.

On April 30, 1975, Humbles was assigned to the clerical task of updating certain telephone numbers in the Wheaton Police Station. His superior officer, Sergeant Dobbs, testified at the administrative hearing that Humbles stated that he was going to the county courthouse to testify in a traffic case. Dobbs said that he asked Humbles to wait for a moment while he took a memo to the chief's office, then he would drive him to the courthouse in the squad car and would attend court while Humbles was testifying. This conversation was the basis for the charge of disobeying a superior officer.

Sergeant Dobbs further testified that when he returned, Humbles had already left. He saw Humbles walking towards the courthouse and approached him. He said that he reminded plaintiff that he had instructed him to wait in the station and Humbles responded that he had not heard the instruction. When Dobbs suggested he would go in with plaintiff, plaintiff stated that he was in the courthouse on personal business relating to his wife's divorce suit. Dobbs testified that he asked plaintiff why he had lied and that plaintiff answered he would be docked in pay if he had told the truth.

Humbles testified that he did not hear Dobbs instruct him to wait. He admitted, however, that he did not tell Sergeant Dobbs the truth because, he said, he was embarrassed by the divorce case. He also testified that he had told Dobbs that he had lied to him because he could not trust him with that confidential information. Counsel for the City of Wheaton objected to questions by plaintiff's counsel as to why the divorce matter was an embarrassment and why plaintiff considered his sergeant untrustworthy and the objections were sustained. There was evidence in the record that plaintiff's wife had been at the police station some days previously with the reasonable implication that the divorce matter was not a secret in the department.

There was further evidence in the record that the City of Wheaton had a departmental police manual which contained approximately 2200 rules, regulations and policies but which was silent on the question of granting time off for personal business. The chief of police testified, however, that although he had been recently appointed, it was his understanding that the procedure had always been that an officer could attend to such personal matters as divorce as if it were normal business without being docked and that it was not necessary to get formal permission. Humbles testified that he was not aware of the unwritten policy.

• 1 Plaintiff has suggested without citation of authority that the court erred in its conduct of the hearing in a number of regards. We find no basis in the record which supports the various claims to an extent which would call in question the integrity of the hearing. We therefore consider the essential contention of the plaintiff that his conduct on April 30, 1975, did not amount to a defect which rendered him undesirable as a policeman and was therefore insufficient grounds for dismissal. We agree.

A police board is accorded considerable discretion in determining what constitutes cause for discharge; and its decision as to the existence of cause will not be reversed "so long as its findings are related to the requirements of the service and not so trivial as to be arbitrary or unreasonable." Petraitis v. Board of Fire & Police Commissioners, 31 Ill. App.3d 864, 868 (1975).

• 2 In Westby v. Board of Fire & Police Commissioners, 48 Ill. App.3d 388, 393-94 (1977), we have recently affirmed that

"The `cause' for dismissal referred to in section 10-2.1-17 of the Illinois Municipal Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 24, par. 10-2.1-17) has been held to mean

`some substantial shortcoming which renders continuance in his office or employment in some way detrimental to the discipline and efficiency of the service and something which the law and a sound public opinion recognize as a good cause for his not longer occupying the place.' (Fantozzi v. Fire and Police Commissrs., 27 Ill.2d 357, 360 (1963).)

(See also Nation v. Board of Fire & Police Commissioners, 40 Ill. App.3d 384, 386-87 (1976).)"

When Humbles' conduct is judged by these standards we cannot agree that his conduct, although ...

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