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Taylor v. Police Bd. of City of Chicago

OPINION FILED JUNE 28, 1978.

JOHN TAYLOR, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

POLICE BOARD OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ARTHUR L. DUNNE, Judge, presiding.

MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE JIGANTI DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

The Police Board of the City of Chicago (the Board), found that patrolman John Taylor violated rules of the Chicago Police Department and discharged him from the force. Taylor petitioned the circuit court of Cook County to review the decision under the Administrative Review Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 110, par. 264 et seq.). Finding that the order was against the manifest weight of the evidence, the court reversed the Board. By this appeal, the Board seeks to reinstate its order, arguing that the order is supported by the evidence and, in the light of Taylor's conduct, that there was cause to dismiss him from the force.

On January 2, 1973, Taylor, while on duty, shot 17-year-old Derrel McKinney. McKinney died as a result of the gunshot wound. Charges against Taylor for his actions relating to McKinney's death were filed with the Board. After an administrative hearing, the Board, on September 25, 1975, discharged Taylor, finding that he violated Rules 8, 11, 14 and 38 of the Police Department.

Taylor did not testify at the hearing. His version of the events was placed in the record through the introduction of statements he gave to the police shortly after McKinney's death and excerpts from testimony he gave in a 1974 Federal civil rights suit filed by McKinney's parents. According to Taylor, on the night of January 1-2, he and another officer were on patrol in an unmarked vehicle. About midnight they began to follow a car occupied by two juveniles. They suspected that the driver (later identified as McKinney) and the passenger (later identified as Jerry Cowan, McKinney's neighbor) were curfew violators. McKinney, apparently to elude the unmarked vehicle, increased the speed of his car to 30 miles per hour and drove down an alley. The police continued pursuit. After both cars turned on to a street, the police switched on emergency lights. McKinney stopped the car, got out and ran towards a gangway between two single family residences. Taylor followed him, shouting "Stop, police." The other officer stayed with Cowan.

According to Taylor, as he approached McKinney in the gangway, McKinney turned, pushed him off balance and ran down the gangway toward the alley. He did not see any weapon on McKinney. Taylor stated he followed McKinney, leaping, as McKinney had done, over a gate, again shouting "Stop, police" and drawing his gun as he entered the backyard. Still in pursuit, Taylor attempted to jump over a second gate which led to the alley. It was 45 inches high and wired shut. Taylor did not clear the gate; he fell back and the gun discharged. In one statement he said the gun fired when his hand hit the gate; in another he said the gun fired when he hit the ground. He said he may have, unintentionally, pulled the trigger. He got up, cleared the gate, and found McKinney about 15 feet down the alley, face down, with a bullet wound in his back. Taylor returned to the police car to summon help. The gangway and backyard, it turned out, belonged to the house in which McKinney lived with his family. Taylor said he pursued McKinney because he suspected McKinney had committed curfew and traffic offenses and "for whatever reason McKinney ran."

At the Board hearing three persons testified that they heard the gunshot. Valerie Wilson, McKinney's sister, said that at the time of the shooting she was sitting in the dining room of her house near the window which directly abutted the gangway down which McKinney and Taylor ran. She testified that she heard running footsteps, a clang of a gate, more footsteps and a gunshot. She heard no voices. On cross-examination Wilson said she gave a statement to the police concerning her brother's death. However, no such statement was found.

Frank Pittman, who lived in the house on the other side of the gangway, testified that at the time he was in the bathroom in his basement. Through a window which opened on to the gangway, he heard footsteps, a wooden thud, more running footsteps, a pause and a gunshot. He did not hear any voices, either. Pittman recalled giving several statements to the police concerning the incident, although the record reflects only one such statement was given.

Esther Pittman, Frank's wife, was upstairs in the Pittmans' house in a bedroom on the side of the house near the gangway. She testified she heard footsteps, a noise as if someone was kicking a door, another set of footsteps, which stopped at her bedroom window, then a shot. She, too, heard no voices. On cross-examination some of the testimony she gave at the coroner's inquest was read to her. She was told that at the inquest she testified she looked out the bedroom window at the sound of the shot. There were also statements read which indicate she heard a gate clang in addition to the noises she described at the Board hearing. Esther denied looking out her bedroom window after the shot and was unclear whether she heard a gate. It was stipulated that she had testified at the inquest to those facts. No part of the actual inquest transcript was incorporated into the Board record.

A report of an examination of Taylor's gun by firearm's expert, Earl Warner, was introduced into the record. It stated that unless Taylor pulled the trigger, the safety devices on his gun would prevent it from firing, even if it struck something. If the gun was not cocked, the pressure required to pull the trigger and fire it was from 10 1/2 to 11 pounds; if cocked, 3 to 3 1/2 pounds of pressure was sufficient. Warner testified to these facts at the hearing.

On this record, the Board discharged Taylor. The circuit court reversed the order of the Board. In order to determine whether the Board's ruling was proper, we must examine three questions: (1) does Taylor's alleged conduct fall within the prohibitions of the Police Department Rules; (2) does the record support the facts found; and (3) assuming that Taylor's conduct did violate Police Department Rules, were these violations "cause" for his dismissal.

• 1, 2 An administrative body's interpretation of its own rules, as long as the interpretation relates to the agency's power, is entitled to a presumption of validity. (See Scheffki v. Board of Fire & Police Commissioners (1974), 23 Ill. App.3d 971, 973, 320 N.E.2d 371, 373.) This deference is accorded the Board because, as part of the executive branch of the government, it has both the responsibility and expertise in matters relating to the enforcement of standards which concern maintenance of discipline and morale within the Department. (Nolting v. Civil Service Com. (1955), 7 Ill. App.2d 147, 129 N.E.2d 236.) A reviewing court's obligation is only to determine whether the Board's interpretation of its own rules has a reasonable basis in law. Shell Oil Co. v. Pollution Control Board (1976), 37 Ill. App.3d 264, 346 N.E.2d 212; see also Nolting; Ranquist.

The Board decided that Taylor's conduct on the night of McKinney's death violated, among others, Rules 8, 38 and 11 of the Police Department. Rule 8 prohibits an on duty officer's maltreatment of an individual; Rule 38 prohibits the unnecessary use or display of a weapon by an officer; Rule 11 prohibits a police officer from acting inefficiently and incompetently.

The Board concluded that Taylor's actions in drawing his gun while in pursuit of McKinney constituted unnecessary use or display of a weapon; it went on to find that such conduct under the circumstances falls within the concept of "maltreatment." Taylor, on the other hand, asserts that his judgment in drawing his gun while in pursuit of a fleeing suspect, down a darkened gangway, at midnight, was justified. He states that as a police officer he had a duty and a right to stop McKinney for questioning and possible arrest because of McKinney's evasive conduct, the alleged traffic violations and McKinney shoving him. As such, Taylor suggests, his use of his gun was necessary and not maltreatment of McKinney.

• 3, 4 In order for this court to characterize Taylor's conduct as justified it must replace the Board's assessment of on-duty police procedure with its own. Such a substitution of judgment is not within the competence of a reviewing court when the interpretation given the rule in question by the administrative body which adopted it is a reasonable one. (Nolting.) Taylor stated his only reason for chasing McKinney that night was to question or arrest him for possible curfew and traffic violations. While McKinney's flight down the gangway might have prompted a variety of suspicions, there is no evidence that it threatened bodily harm to Taylor or anyone else or that Taylor was attempting to stop him on a belief that McKinney was a fleeing felon. The record, based on Taylor's statements, is bereft of any reason for Taylor's action in drawing his gun; the Board was left to infer it. While a court trying the case de novo might have drawn different inferences and come to a different conclusion, on the record in this case, it was reasonable to conclude that Taylor's conduct in drawing, displaying and using his revolver was unnecessary and a violation of Rule 38. Further, in consideration of the special need for the exercise of restraint ...


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