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Brown v. Sexner

OPINION FILED MAY 5, 1980.

NATHANIEL BROWN, JR., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

SIDNEY SEXNER ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. NATHAN B. ENGELSTEIN, Judge, presiding. MR. JUSTICE O'CONNOR DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff, Nathaniel Brown, Jr., was discharged from his position as a captain of the Cook County Department of Corrections (Department) following a hearing before the Cook County Police and Corrections Merit Board (Board). Brown brought an administrative review action against defendants in the circuit court of Cook County. The circuit court reversed one of the Board's findings, but upheld Brown's discharge.

Brown appeals from the circuit court's order, contending that: (1) the Board lacked jurisdiction to reconsider its order dismissing the complaint against Brown; (2) the Board's decision was erroneously based on allegations of the complaint which were dismissed by the Sheriff of Cook County; (3) the Board's findings were not supported by the manifest weight of the evidence; (4) Brown's conduct was not sufficient cause for discharge; (5) the Board allowed improper and prejudicial rebuttal evidence; and (6) his prehearing suspension was illegal and unconstitutional.

The sheriff of Cook County brought a complaint against Brown alleging five violations: (1) that Brown committed the offense of battery against correctional officer Willie Beasley by punching and kicking Beasley without lawful justification, thereby causing Beasley's hospitalization; (2) that Brown violated (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 38, par. 12-3(a)) (criminal battery); (3) that Brown wilfully mistreated Beasley in violation of article VIII, section B, paragraph 3 of the Board Rules; (4) that Brown mistreated Beasley, a junior employee, in violation of article VIII, section B, paragraph 9; and (5) that Brown engaged in conduct unbecoming a Department employee which tended to reflect discredit on the Department in violation of article VIII, section B, paragraph 11.

On December 5, 1977, the Board granted plaintiff's motion to dismiss the complaint. On January 10, 1978, the Board vacated that order.

Willie Beasley, a Department correctional officer for over nine years, testified before the Board about an incident occurring on April 19, 1977. Beasley arrived at a tavern parking lot at about 9 a.m. He had just finished his shift and was in uniform. Beasley met Officers Brown, Anderson, Clay and Lockett. They sat in Lockett's car for 30 to 45 minutes, drinking whiskey, then left the car and continued conversing. Gradually everyone left the lot except Brown and Beasley. As the two men stood talking in the parking lot, Brown swung at Beasley, striking him in the face. When Beasley tried to back away, he tripped and fell over a concrete divider. Brown kicked Beasley in the side while Beasley was on the ground. Beasley got up and continued to back away, but Brown continued to throw punches which Beasley was able to block. Beasley did not see anyone present during the fight; however, Officer Glover returned to break it up.

Beasley further testified that he suffered a fractured nose, split lip and sore side. The police were summoned to the scene and took Beasley to the hospital. Beasley subsequently underwent surgery for his nasal injuries.

On cross-examination, Beasley testified that Officers Brown, Lockett, Clay and Anderson were also off duty at the time of the incident. Captain Brown was not in uniform. Brown was Beasley's superior officer. Beasley maintained a good working relationship with Brown before the incident and believed that the relationship would remain good despite the altercation. Beasley recalled drinking a couple of shots and did not recall any argument with Brown before Brown hit him. He testified that Brown said he thought Beasley was his friend prior to striking him.

Walter Glover, a Department employee, testified that on April 19, 1977, at about 10:30 a.m., he left the Burger King and observed Brown and Beasley arguing. Glover saw that Beasley was bleeding and stepped between the men. He did not see Beasley strike Brown. Glover recalled Beasley saying to Brown, "I thought you were my friend."

Willard Sullivan, chief correctional officer for the Department, a 17-year Department employee and Brown's superior officer, testified that on April 19, 1977, at about 1 p.m., he (Sullivan) arrived at the Ninth District Chicago Police Station. He saw Captain Brown in the squad room and noticed Brown's appearance was disheveled, his eyes were bloodshot and he was loud and hostile. When the police attempted to read Brown his rights, he said, "Fuck that shit; these cuffs are too tight. Loosen these cuffs."

In Chief Sullivan's opinion, Captain Brown's behavior was disruptive to the efficiency of the Department. He elaborated that such conduct would affect the morale of other correctional officers and that lower ranking officers would have no defense against the use of physical force by their superiors.

Superintendent Robert Glotz testified that he had been a Department employee for 12 years and had been a captain for 2 1/2 years. Glotz testified that a correctional captain should possess traits of leadership, self-discipline and self-control. In his opinion, if a captain were to strike a subordinate officer while off duty and without legal justification, such conduct would disrupt the efficiency of the Department. It would also undermine the superior officer's leadership abilities because he would lose the respect of his men. Superintendent Glotz had no personal knowledge of any disruption of Department operation due to the April 19, 1977, incident.

Officer Russell Nelson testified on Brown's behalf. Nelson was assistant superintendent at the time of the incident. He received no complaints of morale problems as a result of the incident. Such complaints, however, could have been handled by junior officers.

Lieutenant Robert Kelly also testified that he did not detect any morale problems or disruption stemming from the April 19, 1977, incident, nor did he receive any complaints. The parties then stipulated that if 54 witnesses listed on Brown's amended answer to discovery testified, they would substantially corroborate Nelson's and Kelly's testimony.

Officer William Anderson testified that during the morning hours of April 19, 1977, he saw Brown and Beasley in the parking lot and overheard their conversation. Brown told Beasley not to drive and Beasley said he wanted to drive. Brown was holding Beasley's car keys and Beasley wanted them back. Brown declined. Anderson characterized the conversation as a debate and stated that Beasley was loud. Anderson left the lot accompanied by Officer Clay. On cross-examination, Anderson testified that Brown was his superior officer and friend.

Captain Brown testified in his own behalf that on the morning of April 19, 1977, he had a conversation with Beasley. Brown told Beasley that Beasley had enough to drink and should not drive. Beasley contended that he was O.K. and could drive. Brown stated that Officer Clay would take Beasley home. Brown had the keys to Beasley's auto and gave them to Clay. Clay later put the keys on top of an unidentified auto and left. At this point Brown retrieved the keys and, when Beasley tried to grab them, he pushed Brown. Brown pushed Beasley off him and Beasley fell, striking his face on the cement divider.

While no one was present during the altercation, several officers came upon the scene shortly thereafter. Brown denied kicking Beasley. He denied being intoxicated and stated he only drank one beer. Beasley filed a criminal charge of battery against Brown, but the charge was dismissed. According to Brown, Beasley was and still is his friend. Brown further testified that at the police station he complained because the handcuffs were cutting off his circulation. He also tried to explain the incident to the police officers.

Officer Bennie Clay testified that he overheard the conversation between Brown and Beasley. He heard Brown telling Beasley he wasn't capable of driving and Beasley insisting he could drive. Brown gave Clay Beasley's keys because he didn't think Beasley was able to drive. Clay testified that Beasley was "a little loud." On cross-examination, Clay testified that he was a friend of Brown's and it was possible that he wanted to help Brown. Clay was also Beasley's friend.

On rebuttal, Officer Harold Gordon of the Chicago police department testified that he arrived at the scene of the incident and observed a group of Cook County sheriffs in uniform. One officer, subsequently identified as Beasley, was bleeding from the nose and crying. Gordon observed Brown and noticed that his eyes were bloodshot and watery, that he had a strong odor of alcohol on his breath and that he swayed while standing. Gordon also observed cuts on Brown's knuckles. In Gordon's opinion, Brown was intoxicated.

Gordon further testified that it required five police officers to restrain Brown and to handcuff him. When Gordon asked Brown what had happened, Brown replied that it was none of his business. Brown shouted, "You can't arrest me, I'm a police officer too." At the police station, Gordon observed Brown struggling with an officer in the interview room. When Brown was told he was going to the lockup, he yelled, "If you [don't] take off these handcuffs, I am going to do the same thing to you as I did to the other officer." Brown also refused to show any identification and then fell asleep on a table.

When Gordon asked Beasley what happened, Beasley replied that he had been drinking with Brown for a few hours and that Brown punched him in the face for no reason. Gordon testified that he could tell Beasley was drinking, but could not give an opinion as to his sobriety.

Dr. John Patterson testified as to treatment he gave Beasley immediately after the incident. Beasley told him that he had been in a fight, that he had been punched in the nose and kicked in the ribs. Dr. Patterson believed that the nasal bleeding indicated "acute trauma to the nose, probably from being hit." Additionally, Beasley's front teeth were loose and he complained of pain in his right side. Dr. Patterson did not notice alcohol on Beasley's breath.

Finally, Beasley testified on rebuttal that he left his car keys in the vehicle. He gave them to no one, but didn't know if they were taken from his car. He stated that no one offered him a ride home.

Based on this evidence, the Board entered its order of dismissal and findings. The Board noted that the rank of correctional captain involves duties and responsibilities to the public and Department inmates and requires alertness, good mental condition and "a maturity in judgment so as to be able to perform in moments of stress to protect the public and inmates." ...


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