Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 91MR86
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Robert J. Eggers, judge Presiding.
JUSTICE STEIGMANN delivered the opinion of the court:
In March 1991, defendant Illinois State Police Merit Board (Board), found that plaintiff, William A. Merrifield, had violated cer- tain rules of conduct prescribed by defendant Illinois State Police (Department), and, on this basis, terminated his employment as a state police officer. In April 1991, Merrifield filed a complaint for admin- istrative review of the Board's decision. In December 1995, the circuit court upheld the Board's decision. Merrifield subsequently filed a mo- tion for reconsideration, and in January 1996, the circuit court af- firmed the Board's ruling in part, reversed it in part, and remanded the matter for further consideration.
In June 1996, the Board issued an order reaffirming its prior decision. Merrifield filed a second complaint for administrative review in July 1996. In April 1997, the circuit court reversed the Board's ruling on one of the violations and, with respect to the other viola- tions, determined that suspension--rather than discharge--was the appro- priate sanction.
The Board appeals, arguing that the circuit court erred by re- versing the Board's decision in part and imposing its own sanction where the evidence was sufficient to support Merrifield's dismissal. For the following reasons, we reverse the circuit court and reinstate the Board's June 1996 decision.
A. The Department's Complaint
In August 1990, the Director of the Department filed a four- count complaint with the Board requesting Merrifield's discharge for cause. Count I alleged that Merrifield's association with Brenda Hous- ton, a convicted felon, violated Rule 21 of the Department's rules of conduct, which provides:
"Except as necessary to the performance of official duties, or where unavoidable because of other family relationships of the officer, officers will avoid regular or continuous associations or dealings with persons whom they know, or should know, are persons under criminal investigation or indictment, or who have a reputation in the community or the epartment for present or past involvement in felonious or criminal behavior." Illinois State Police Directives Manual, §ROC-002, Rules of Conduct, Rule 21 (1996).
Count II and paragraphs 14 and 15 of count III alleged that Merrifield lied to his immediate supervisor and to investigating officers in viola- tion of Rules 41 and 42, respectively. Rule 41 provides as follows:
"Upon the order of the director, deputy director or a superior officer, officers will truthfully answer all questions specifically directed and narrowly related to the scope of employment and operations of the epartment which may be asked of them." Illinois State Police Directives Manual, §ROC-002, Rules of Conduct, Rule 41 (1996).
"Officers are required to answer questions by, or render material and relevant statements to, competent authority in a e-partment personnel investigation when said officer, prior to the interrogation[,] has been advised of his statutory administrative proceedings rights if the allegation indicates a recommendation for a demotion, sus- pension of more than 15 days or removal or discharge is probable, and/or his constitutional rights con- cerning self-incrimination if the allegation indi- cates that criminal prosecution is probable against that officer." Illinois State Police Directives Manual, §ROC-002, Rules of Conduct, Rule 42 (1996).
Finally, count IV (misnumbered count VI in the complaint) alleged that Merrifield's aforementioned conduct constituted conduct unbecoming an officer in violation of Rule 7, which provides:
"Officers will conduct themselves on and off duty in such a manner as to reflect favorably on the epartment. Officers will not engage in conduct which discredits the integrity of the epartment or its employees, or which impairs the operations of the Department. Such actions will constitute conduct unbecoming an officer." Illinois State Police Directives Manual, §ROC-002, Rules of Conduct, Rule 7 (1996).
B. The Evidence Presented at the Board Hearing
In October 1990, a hearing officer serving on behalf of the Board held a hearing on the Director's complaint. The evidence present- ed during that proceeding showed the following.
Since March 1975, Merrifield had been an Illinois state police officer assigned to the District 9 office in Springfield, Illinois. Merrifield and Houston met in May 1988 and shortly thereafter began dating. Previously, in February 1988, Houston had pleaded guilty to and was convicted in Michigan of the "delivery/manufacture" of between 225 and 649 grams of cocaine and, in July 1988, she was sentenced to 10 to 30 years in the Michigan Department of Corrections. In September 1989, the ...