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O'Neill v. Rodriguez

August 07, 1998


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Zwick

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County

No. 95 CH 00079

Honorable Lester D. Foreman, Judge Presiding.

Defendant, the Police Board of the City of Chicago (Police Board) issued a final administrative decision suspending plaintiff, James L. O'Neill, for a period of 30 days based upon violations of certain departmental rules. Plaintiff filed a complaint for administrative review in the circuit court of Cook County. The circuit court affirmed the decision of the Police Board, and plaintiff has appealed, contending (1) the decision of the Police Board did not contain sufficient findings of fact to allow judicial review, (2) the Police Board's decision was against the manifest weight of the evidence, (3) the Police Board abused its discretion and acted arbitrarily in issuing the 30-day suspension, and (4) the investigation of plaintiff's conduct was improperly initiated because it was predicated on an anonymous complaint.

The record establishes that from 1991 until 1993, plaintiff was a lieutenant for the Police Department of the City of Chicago and served as the Commanding Officer of the Personnel Investigative Section of the Personnel Division. In that capacity, plaintiff was responsible for command of the unit which processed candidates, including oversight of all pre-employment testing and background investigations. In addition to his supervisory duties, plaintiff also personally conducted some background investigations and performed follow-up on other investigations. Plaintiff was a 20-year veteran with an exemplary service record.

The instant case centers on charges that plaintiff violated Rules 2 and 13 of the Chicago police department, which prohibit the following behavior:

Rule 2: "[a]ny action or conduct which impedes the Department's efforts to achieve its policy and/or goals and/or brings discredit upon the Department."

Rule 13: "[f]ailure to adequately secure and care for Department property."

On June 10, 1992, an anonymous telephone complaint alleged that plaintiff had submitted false overtime slips to the Department when, in fact, he was teaching at DePaul University and frequenting a Halsted Street tavern. A second anonymous complaint, this one in writing, was received on July 27, 1992, and charged that plaintiff was an "habitual drunk driver" and had been involved in a traffic accident on June 1, 1992, after he had been drinking.

These two complaints became the subject of an Internal Affairs investigation, which revealed that at 1:45 a.m. on June 1, 1992, plaintiff was driving a department vehicle westbound on I-90 west of Harlem Avenue. According to plaintiff, as he moved from the center lane to the right lane of traffic, an unknown vehicle changed lanes directly in front of him and caused him to swerve to the left in order to avoid an accident. As a result, plaintiff's vehicle traveled across the center and left lanes and struck a concrete median barrier. The accident caused damage to the department vehicle driven by plaintiff which was estimated at more than $12,980. At the time of the accident, the weather was clear and dry, and plaintiff was not asked to take a breathalyzer test. The Illinois State Trooper who investigated the accident noticed that plaintiff was nervous, but did not observe evidence that plaintiff had been drinking. Chicago police sergeant James McKenna, who drove plaintiff to the police station, back to the accident scene and then home, agreed with the State Trooper's assessment that plaintiff had not been drinking. Plaintiff's superior, Commander Wedgbury, concluded that the accident was "non-preventable."

Plaintiff explained that he was off duty at the time of the accident and was on his way home after having dinner at the home of Gilberto Elizondo, another member of the police department. Although his shift ended at 2 p.m. that day, plaintiff returned to work to review materials. Plaintiff left the office between 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. that evening and then went to the home of Elizondo. Plaintiff denied that he had been drinking alcohol at Dugan's Tavern prior to the accident, and he stated that he had permission to use the department vehicle because he would be using the vehicle to conduct interviews later that day. Plaintiff claimed that he does not drive his assigned department vehicle for personal use.

Gilberto Elizondo stated that plaintiff had dinner at his home on the evening of May 31, 1992. According to Elizondo, plaintiff arrived at his home after 7 p.m., and he stayed until well after midnight. Elizondo stated that plaintiff did not consume any alcoholic beverages at his home that night.

The investigation also revealed that plaintiff had been involved in an automobile accident 15 months earlier while he was off duty. This accident occurred at 12:55 a.m. on March 16, 1991, while plaintiff was traveling northbound on Kedzie Avenue at the intersection with Bryn Mawr. Plaintiff's car was in the intersection when it stalled because of mechanical problems. A second vehicle, traveling eastbound, entered the intersection when the light changed and struck plaintiff's vehicle. Commander Wedgbury also found that this accident was "non-preventable." The cost of repair to plaintiff's vehicle was approximately $1,753.

The police officer who was first to the scene described plaintiff as "disoriented from the collision," but stated that there was no indication that he was intoxicated. A police captain who was called to the scene interviewed plaintiff and noted "no impairments." However, the driver and passenger of the second car involved in the collision stated that plaintiff appeared to be intoxicated after the accident. The driver, David Flapan, explained that he had not informed the investigating officer of his belief that plaintiff was intoxicated because "it was obvious by the way he was acting. He couldn't even drive his car off the street." The passenger, Teddy Wallace, characterized plaintiff as "really, really drunk *** extremely bombed *** totally inebriated on liquor." He also described plaintiff as stumbling and ...

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