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Crittenden v. Bd of Fire & Police Comm'rs

OPINION FILED DECEMBER 13, 1985.

J. DAVID CRITTENDEN, APPELLANT,

v.

THE BOARD OF FIRE AND POLICE COMMISSIONERS OF THE VILLAGE OF ARLINGTON HEIGHTS ET AL., APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Arthur L. Dunne, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE LORENZ DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff, Sergeant J. David Crittenden, appeals from an order of the circuit court of Cook County affirming the decision of the board of fire and police commissioners of the Village of Arlington Heights removing him from the village's police department. In his appeal plaintiff contends that (1) certain evidentiary rulings by the board denied him a fair hearing; (2) the board's decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence; and (3) the penalty of discharge was too severe.

We affirm.

Pertinent to our disposition is the following. Police Officer Patrick Kennedy, after first having been given approval by plaintiff who was acting as watch commander of the Arlington Heights police department, was conducting on September 21, 1981, a surveillance of the house of Frank Caldarazzo, suspected of drug dealing.

Kennedy observed for about 45 minutes two individuals later identified as Norman Esposito and Gina Copitas sitting in a car. He told plaintiff by radio that the two appeared to be snorting cocaine. He also advised the plaintiff that he wished to make a traffic stop if the car moved. Kennedy called for the assistance of Officers William Mols, Joseph Skalski, and Timothy Barret, telling Barret and Mols that he wanted the traffic stop made in order to see if a drug arrest could be made.

When Esposito and Copitas entered another vehicle and drove away Officer Barret followed and stopped them for improper lane usage. An open bottle of liquor was observed at Copitas' feet and cocaine was found on Esposito. Plaintiff arrived at the scene of the stop, where the two were arrested and taken to the station. There Quaaludes and marijuana were found in Copitas' purse.

Plaintiff testified that Copitas had repeatedly asked him if she could do anything to help herself out of the situation. On the plaintiff's suggestion plaintiff and Kennedy asked Copitas to make a drug purchase from Caldarazzo. After being told that they would request leniency for her, would seek a low bond, and would not arrest Copitas' friend, Rena Koch, who was at the Caldarazzo home unless she sold the drugs, she agreed. Kennedy testified that Esposito was first asked to make the purchase but refused.

Copitas admitted that she ultimately agreed to make the purchase, but only after being told by plaintiff and Kennedy that she was in a lot of trouble, would be in deeper trouble if she refused, and that her girlfriend Rena would be implicated in whatever Caldarazzo was involved in. She confirmed that she was promised help with a lower bond and that Rena would not be involved.

It is undisputed that with the knowledge of the plaintiff, Kennedy gave Copitas $250 in small bills obtained from Esposito for use in the drug purchase. This money was taken from a prisoner property envelope. Kennedy testified that he feared that larger bills would be suspicious and he replaced the money with $250 of his own. It is also undisputed that plaintiff was aware that Kennedy then used Esposito's impounded car to drive Copitas to Caldarazzo's house.

Copitas testified that when she entered the house Caldarazzo and Rena Koch were not there. She hid $30 in the bathroom. Caldarazzo and Koch returned to the house, and Copitas asked Caldarazzo if she could buy some drugs. When he refused she became frightened because the police had told her if she did not return with anything it would be as if she had never gone into the house for them. She grabbed a vial she suspected had cocaine in it from around Koch's neck. Koch grabbed her by the hair and they began wrestling on the stairs. She sustained scratches and a bleeding lip in this struggle. Caldarazzo pushed her against the wall and took the vial from her, but did not hurt her. She then ran out the door and drove to a gas station designated earlier as the place she was to meet the police.

The plaintiff, who served as the acting watch commander throughout this period, joined Copitas at the gas station along with Officers Kennedy, Barret, and Skalski. Copitas testified that she told them that Rena Koch had hit her. She specifically denied saying that Caldarazzo struck her, stating that she only told them he pushed her into the wall in getting the vial but did not hurt her. However, the plaintiff, as well as Officers Kennedy, Barret, and Skalski all testified that Copitas told them Caldarazzo had beaten her. According to Kennedy her lip and teeth were bleeding, her hair was disheveled, and her fingernails were broken. She told him Caldarazzo punched her and pulled the vial from her.

According to the plaintiff, he and Officers Kennedy, Barret, and Mols went to Caldarazzo's house to arrest him for battery. Kennedy saw Caldarazzo through a window and told him he was under arrest. Caldarazzo told Kennedy that he needed a search warrant to enter the home. Kennedy testified that Caldarazzo locked the front door and then leaned against it as Kennedy attempted to kick it in. However Officer Barret testified that the door was already locked and to his knowledge there was no additional resistance against it from the other side. Kennedy also testified that before he began to force his way in he heard Caldarazzo yell "Flush it!" Barret testified that he heard this before Kennedy began to forcibly enter.

According to Kennedy, when he broke down the door Caldarazzo retreated to the kitchen. When he leaned Caldarazzo over the counter in an attempt to handcuff him, Caldarazzo kept trying to stand up and flailed away at Kennedy, striking him, before being handcuffed. Plaintiff also testified that Caldarazzo was only handcuffed after a struggle. However Officer Barret, who entered with the other two officers, testified that Caldarazzo was standing in the kitchen with his hands up, did not strike anyone, and was handcuffed without any resistance.

Caldarazzo was taken back to the police station, where he was charged with resisting arrest in a complaint signed by Kennedy and with battery in a complaint signed by Copitas. Copitas testified that the plaintiff and Kennedy handed her the complaint and told her to sign it. She also testified that earlier Kennedy, in the plaintiff's presence, told her that Caldarazzo had beaten her and she was going to sign a complaint against him. Further, she did so because she was frightened and because they told her they would help with her bond hearing and would "take ...


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