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Manias v. Sheriff's Dep't Merit Com.

OPINION FILED OCTOBER 12, 1982.

EMANUEL MANIAS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE AND CROSS-APPELLANT,

v.

PEORIA COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT MERIT COMMISSION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT AND CROSS-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Peoria County; the Hon. Charles M. Wilson, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE HEIPLE DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Following a hearing before the Peoria County Sheriff's Merit Commission, Lieutenant Emanuel Manias was found guilty of violating rules of the Sheriff's Office Duty Manual. As punishment, the commission ordered him reduced in rank from lieutenant to deputy sheriff. The complaint against Manias was in two counts.

The first charge alleged that Manias engaged in conduct unbecoming an officer which would tend to bring discredit to the sheriff's department and that on December 6, 1980, Manias engaged in acts which resulted in the abuse of Peoria County property. The underlying factual basis for that charge was that Manias drove a squad car after being warned that the car had a broken fan belt whereupon the car caught fire and was destroyed.

The second charge alleged that Manias filed a false report pertaining to the above incident. Specifically, that he lied when he denied in his report that the red alternator light on the car's dashboard was flashing when he drove it.

On appeal to the Peoria County Circuit Court, the finding on the first charge was affirmed, the finding on the second charge was reversed, and the cause was remanded to the commission for reconsideration of the penalty. Cross-appeals were filed.

As to the first charge, there is no question but that the car caught fire after Manias drove it. There is no evidence, however, that Manias drove the car to damage it or that he could have reasonably expected that such damage would occur. Moreover, there is no evidence in the record to indicate what caused the fire. To conclude that the fire started because of the broken fan belt is to indulge in sheer conjecture. For Manias to be guilty as charged, it must be proven that he intentionally or recklessly caused damage to the car. To prove that the car had a broken fan belt; to prove that Manias knew of the broken fan belt; to prove that Manias drove the car with this knowledge; and to prove that the car thereupon caught fire, all taken together, do not prove that Manias violated any rule of the Sheriff's Office Duty Manual or that, indeed, Manias did anything wrong. What would have to be shown is that the broken fan belt caused the fire and that Manias knew or should have known that a fire would be caused if he drove a car with a broken fan belt. Such proof was lacking.

The record discloses that before Manias came into possession of the subject car, the car was in the possession of Sergeant Bland who drove the car during his shift. Toward the end of his shift, Bland noticed the red alternator light appear on the dashboard. The car commenced to handle as if it had manual steering when, in fact, it was equipped with power steering. Bland drove the car back to the jail where he investigated under the hood. There he observed a broken fan belt. Bland removed the fan belt and placed it on the radiator. Nothing else appeared unusual about the car or its engine to Bland. He then reported the broken fan belt to Manias. In response to Manias' question if the car could be driven to the garage to be replaced, Bland's only expressed concern was whether the car would have sufficient electrical power to be driven. Bland's warning went no further. Bland did not tell him about the red alternator light. He did not tell him that he had removed the fan belt and placed it on the radiator. There was no warning about the possibility of fire. While the record shows that Bland told Manias not to drive the car (only because of the broken fan belt), the record also reveals that Bland told Manias he could drive the car if he kept the alternator/battery going.

Manias' purpose in driving the car was to deliver the disabled car to a different post. He knew that no mechanic was on duty at the time (1 a.m.) and he wanted to pick up another squad car for his use during the approximately three-hour balance of his shift.

To minimize the drain of amperage during the six-mile trip, Manias used his parking lights, rather than headlamps, as needed. Although he noticed that the power steering was not operating, he stated that the car was not any more difficult to steer than a manual vehicle without power steering. He also stated that he did not observe the red alternator light flash on at any time during the drive.

Upon arriving at his destination, Manias parked the car and proceeded into the building. He placed the keys in a box, observed that three other cars were available, picked up a key to one of those cars and sat down to chat with the officers on duty. Within a few minutes, another officer said he heard a popping noise and went to the door to check it out. He yelled back that the car was on fire. The vehicle was burned beyond repair at a cost of $7,142 and could be used thereafter only for its parts.

That a fire occurred after Manias drove the car is undisputed. But nowhere in the record is the cause of the fire established. Post hoc ergo propter hoc or "after this, hence because of this," is one of the classic logical fallicies. That is to say, it is not sufficient to conclude that a prior event caused the second event merely because event two followed event one in sequence. A myriad of causes can result in a car catching fire. In truth, no one knows what caused the car to catch fire on the night Lieutenant Manias drove it. Perhaps it was the broken fan belt. Perhaps it was something else. Moreover, nowhere in the record is there evidence that fire is a foreseeable consequence of driving a car six miles with a broken fan belt. Thus, it is unreasonable to find Manias guilty of misconduct and abuse of property in light of the evidence presented. Presumably, the car might have caught fire even if Lieutenant Manias had not driven it at all. In such case, Sergeant Bland would have been the last person to drive the car. There is no rule that holds a person accountable merely because a car catches fire after he uses it.

The second count charged that Manias lied about the fire. Specifically, count II alleged that Manias filed a false report about the fire in that he denied seeing the red alternator light when he drove the vehicle immediately preceding the fire.

Several days after the fire, Chief Deputy Gail Owens took a statement about the incident from Manias. This statement was transcribed into a written document and signed by Manias. Therein, Manias asserted that he did not see any red warning lights appear when he drove the car. In fact, he experienced no trouble with the car when he drove it, except for the steering which was a little stiff but certainly maneuverable. He claimed it was no different from his own car, which has manual steering. A month and one-half later, the sheriff ordered Manias to submit to a polygraph examination about the fire.

Pursuant to the two count charge against Manias, several days of hearings were held before the Peoria County Sheriff's Department Merit Commission. Manias told the commission the same story: he saw no warning lights and had no reason to believe the car was in immediate danger of fire destruction or any type of destruction. The polygraph ...


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