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

OPINION FILED JANUARY 17, 1979.

MICHAEL SCHOENBECK, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

BOARD OF FIRE AND POLICE COMMISSIONERS OF THE VILLAGE OF RIVER FOREST, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



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

MISS JUSTICE MCGILLICUDDY DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied April 12, 1979.

The plaintiff, Michael Schoenbeck, a member of the Police Department of the Village of River Forest, Illinois, filed a complaint for administrative review of the action of the defendant Board of Fire and Police Commissioners of the Village of River Forest (the Board) which found him guilty of violating department rules and discharging him from the department. The circuit court reversed the decision of the Board holding that it was against the manifest weight of the evidence. The Board has appealed from that order.

On January 14, 1977, the chief of police filed numerous charges against the plaintiff with the Board; the charges involved his personal relationship with Sarah Lee Losurdo, a high school resident of River Forest, and a charge that he assisted Losurdo in obtaining a false firearm owner's identification card from the Illinois Department of Law Enforcement. Schoenbeck and Losurdo presented conflicting testimony concerning the exact nature of their relationship.

Schoenbeck, married and the father of two teenage sons, testified that he first met Losurdo approximately three to four years before the hearing, when she was in grammar school. He characterized their relationship as that of "an older brother to a younger sister." He denied that he had formally dated Losurdo but admitted that she had been to his home on several occasions in the presence of his wife and sons. Losurdo, on the other hand, identified herself as Schoenbeck's girl friend and testified that they had dated approximately 150 times. She stated that she had received gifts from Schoenbeck including a lighter engraved with his initials for Valentine's Day 1976 and a diamond ring in June 1976.

Losurdo's parents and her three brothers also testified before the Board. Her mother declared that the plaintiff and her daughter usually dated on Tuesday evenings, and that Losurdo had received gifts from him. Her father testified that in August of 1976 he confronted Schoenbeck concerning his marital status and forbade him from seeing his daughter. The plaintiff's alleged response was "Everybody makes a mistake." Michael Losurdo testified that at his 16th birthday party, he and his sister introduced Schoenbeck as "Sarah Lee's boy friend," and that Losurdo and Schoenbeck "were holding hands and they hugged each other." Michael also testified that the plaintiff had denied that he was married but that he was "living with this lady because it is a law that to be a River Forest Policeman, you have to be married." He also claimed that the plaintiff admitted purchasing the engagement ring worn by Losurdo.

Schoenbeck's wife testified on behalf of her husband. She characterized her relationship with Losurdo as that of a friend and revealed that Losurdo occasionally visited her when Schoenbeck was not present. She stated that the engraved cigarette lighter was a gift from her husband and herself. She further said she would have noticed the absence of her husband every Tuesday evening.

Sergeant Harold Blesy described an incident that occurred in the River Forest police station on December 31, 1976. It appears that this incident precipitated the filing of the charges against Schoenbeck. Blesy testified that shortly before midnight, the plaintiff was informed that he had a visitor, Losurdo, in the lobby of the station. Approximately 15 minutes later, Blesy observed Schoenbeck and Losurdo's brother Phillip shouting in the hallway. Subsequently, he observed Phillip attempting to drag his sister out of the station. Schoenbeck and Blesy approached Phillip, and Schoenbeck and Phillip resumed their argument regarding Schoenbeck's interference in the Losurdo family's problems. Schoenbeck and Phillip then conferred in private and shortly thereafter Phillip apologized to the other officers present for the disturbance and left the station. Upon learning that Losurdo was 18 years of age, Blesy instructed Schoenbeck to get her out of the station. Schoenbeck's written report concerning the evening indicated that Losurdo had argued with her mother and had been asked to leave the home.

Losurdo's father testified that at approximately 1 a.m., after receiving a call from Schoenbeck, he picked his daughter up at the station and took her home. Thereafter, Losurdo resumed her argument with her mother, again left the home and returned to the police station. Around 4 a.m. Blesy re-entered the station and voiced concern that Losurdo was still present. He informed Schoenbeck that he definitely wanted Losurdo out of the station by 6 a.m. The plaintiff testified that he called a cab company to transport Losurdo to a motel, and, following the directions of Blesy, prepared a written report regarding the incident.

At 2 p.m. that afternoon Lieutenant Richard Samuel visited the Losurdo residence after conferring with the chief of police regarding a complaint that the plaintiff was allegedly involved in the family's dispute. He testified that he visited two motels and contacted a cab company in an attempt to locate Losurdo. Subsequently, he phoned Schoenbeck at approximately 6 p.m. to inquire as to what cab company he had called for Losurdo and what was the destination of the cab. At 6:30 p.m. Schoenbeck called the station to determine if Samuel had located Losurdo.

At 7:30 p.m. Losurdo arrived at the Schoenbeck home to attend a New Year's Eve party to which she had been invited by Schoenbeck's wife. The plaintiff claimed that he was unaware of the invitation to Losurdo. Losurdo testified that she left the party at 2 a.m. At no time did the plaintiff inform any member of the police department or the Losurdo family of Losurdo's presence at his party.

Samuel continued his investigation regarding the whereabouts of Losurdo. On January 2, 1977, Mr. and Mrs. Losurdo gave statements to the chief of police and Samuel concerning the relationship between Schoenbeck and Losurdo and blamed the plaintiff for their daughter's disappearance. The chief of police prepared and delivered a letter to Schoenbeck advising him of the possibility of formal charges against him as a result of his personal association with Losurdo. On January 3 at 8:40 p.m. Losurdo's mother telephoned Samuel to inform him that her daughter had returned home.

Schoenbeck admitted that he asked Sergeant George Straugh to notarize a blank application for a firearm owner's identification card. He insisted, however, that the application was intended for Losurdo's brother Michael and that in the presence of his wife he gave the blank application to Losurdo for her brother. Schoenbeck's wife supported his testimony. The card which was admitted into evidence contained Losurdo's picture, the name "Sara Lee Schoenbeck" and a birthdate of September 11, 1954. Losurdo was born on September 11, 1958.

Losurdo, however, testified that Schoenbeck assisted her in preparing the application for the identification card so that if she was carded with Schoenbeck it would appear that she was his wife. She stated that Schoenbeck placed her photograph upon the application and took the completed application with him. Her brother Anthony, age 13, testified that he observed Schoenbeck affixing the picture to the application in the Losurdo home. He stated:

"When I walked in, I asked them what they were doing. And he told me that he was getting Sarah Lee a fake I.D. And he had a form and was going to say that Sarah Schoenbeck was his wife; twenty-two was going to be her age."

At the hearing Schoenbeck's attorney produced a notarized statement signed by Losurdo addressed to the police board in which she stated that her brother had asked Schoenbeck to obtain the application for the firearm owner's identification card, that she received the application from Schoenbeck in the presence of his family, and that she completed the application herself. She also denied the accusations concerning a romantic involvement with Schoenbeck and stated "Mike and Pat have become a brother and sister to me, which I never had." At the hearing Losurdo stated that the contents of her statement were false, and that her testimony before the Board was the truth. She also revealed that she was consulting a psychologist ...


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