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Braje v. Board of Fire & Police Comm'rs

OPINION FILED DECEMBER 10, 1985.

ROSE BRAJE ET AL., APPELLANTS,

v.

BOARD OF FIRE AND POLICE COMMISSIONERS OF THE CITY OF HICKORY HILLS ET AL., APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. James Murray, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE BILANDIC DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied January 14, 1986.

Plaintiff-appellant Rose Braje was dismissed from her position as a police officer for the city of Hickory Hills by defendants board of fire and police commissioner, Thomas Burdelle, Richard Bujwit and Fred Carbonara (collectively, the board). Plaintiff-appellant James Alexander was suspended for 30 days by defendant Board. Defendant Peter Hurst, Chief of Police, brought the charges against them. Both were charged with violations of certain rules and regulations of the Hickory Hills police department. The violations included unnecessary shouting; using obscene language; engaging in conduct that adversely affected the morals of the department; failing to cooperate with an internal police investigation; giving false information regarding possession of a firearm; and sleeping on duty.

Plaintiffs filed a complaint for administrative review in the circuit court, which affirmed the board's findings. Plaintiffs appeal. The only issue presented is whether there was sufficient evidence to support the board's decision.

The significant incidents involved in this case occurred in 1982. At that time, Rose Braje was 26 years old and a member of the Hickory Hills police department since 1978. James Alexander was 34 years old and a member of the same police department since 1976. He was married to Olga Alexander. They had three children ranging in age from three to ten years. A report prepared by Sergeant George Dulzo shows that Braje and Alexander became lovers while both were on the force. This became known to Olga Alexander and members of the police department. During the fall of 1980, Sergeant Dulzo first became aware of the plaintiffs' relationship, and he also noticed that they would meet an "unusual number of times during a shift." Dulzo advised plaintiffs to avoid such meetings because their relationship was becoming public knowledge.

Plaintiffs, however, continued to meet during duty. Alexander began to show signs of stress because of his deteriorating domestic situation. Olga also began calling the police department and asking about the hours her husband supposedly was working. The police department responded by changing plaintiffs' schedules so that they would have less occasion to meet.

In early 1982, plaintiffs were often tardy for work. In fact, Braje received a one-day suspension after she had to be awakened by the department so that she could report to work. Also, during this time, Alexander and Olga separated, and Alexander moved in with Braje. According to Dulzo, Braje was asked to leave both her duty and off-duty revolvers with the department "[b]ecause of the deteriorating domestic situation at Alexander's home." Braje kept stalling and making various excuses but did not comply with this department request, although this request was intended for her benefit and the best interests of the police department.

Sergeant Dulzo testified that he was the watch commander on the midnight shift on August 21, 1982. Braje was assigned to patrol duty in a squad car. At approximately 3 a.m., attempts to reach Braje by radio failed, so Dulzo drove around until 3:45 a.m. He found Braje in her squad car, which was parked with the lights off approximately 125 feet from the road in the driveway of a deserted farm. As he approached her squad car, which was facing his car, he turned on his bright lights. Then he drove alongside Braje's squad and observed her behind the steering wheel with her head leaning back on the headrest, mouth open and eyes closed. He focused his spotlight on her face from a distance of about three feet without any response from her. He sounded his car horn several times; Braje's position remained unchanged. Finally, Sergeant Dulzo left his squad car and pounded on the hood of Braje's car. She woke up, rolled down her window and said "hello."

Officer Braje, in contrast, testified that she was suffering from a severe headache. This caused her to pull off the road, turn down her two-way radios and place her head in her hands. Sergeant Dulzo pulled up and knocked on her window. She looked up and said "hello."

On the night of October 2, 1982, plaintiffs were involved in a public disturbance at a restaurant. The incident involved plaintiffs, who were off duty, and Alexander's estranged wife. The accounts of the witnesses are contradictory, but it is clear that all three parties exchanged unpleasantries and vulgarities in the lounge, the vestibule, and the parking lot. Plaintiffs claim that Olga Alexander started screaming at them when they walked in; Olga claims that Alexander was angry at her and began yelling about her alleged neglect of their children. Olga also stated that Braje raised her fist and swung at her. Regardless of who started the incident, it is clear that there was a public disturbance. Alexander called Officer Vodicker to the scene, and he demanded that a report, charging Olga with child neglect, be made out. Olga later filed disorderly conduct charges, but the charges were dropped.

From early 1982, although Braje was requested to leave her service revolver and off-duty revolver at the station, she pursued a course of delaying actions, particularly regarding her off-duty weapon. This was a snub-nose Colt .38-caliber revolver that she had purchased through the department.

On October 4, 1982, plaintiffs were reassigned to foot patrol because they were the objects of a police and grand jury investigation that is not related to this case. Three days later, on October 7, 1982, Sergeant Lawrence Barre, pursuant to an administrative order from Police Chief Peter Hurst, ordered Braje to turn in both of her handguns. Braje replied that she would turn in her service revolver but that she no longer had her off-duty revolver. When asked of its whereabouts, she replied that her father had lost it, although later she said that she sold it. The next day, Chief Hurst submitted written questions to her concerning the gun. Braje answered that she did not sell the gun and that she had given the gun to her father in January 1982.

On November 1, 1982, Braje and Alexander were ordered to appear for an internal police interview to be conducted by an attorney hired by the city. The interview was set for November 9, 1982. The order advised the police officers that they could have an attorney present and that they could exercise their privilege against self-incrimination. On November 2, 1982, counsel for the police officers responded in writing that the officers would appear on November 9, but would not submit to any questioning. On November 5, 1982, the same ...


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