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Ruther v. Hillard

August 04, 1999


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Hartman


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Aaron Jaffee, Judge Presiding.

Following an administrative hearing, the Police Board of the City of Chicago (Board) discharged petitioner Paul Ruther from the Chicago Police Department (Department) for violating certain departmental rules and regulations. On administrative review, the circuit court reversed the Board's decision, finding it against the manifest weight of the evidence. The Board appeals, contending that the circuit court erred in reweighing the hearing officer's and the Board's credibility determinations.

On January 7, 1994, the Chicago Police Department Superintendent of Police filed charges with the Board against Ruther, a Chicago Police Detective, alleging that, on November 23, 1993, Ruther solicited a bribe. *fn1 Also charged at this time with violations of departmental rules and regulations was Sergeant Chris Zaglifa, one of Ruther's superiors. *fn2

Evidence adduced at Ruther's hearing established that, on November 13, 1993, Ruther was assigned to investigate a report of illegal dumping of waste barrels on the west side of Chicago. His investigation revealed that several of the barrels involved were owned by Javo-Mex Corporation, a manufacturer of detergents and solvents. On November 15, 1993, Ruther spoke with employees at Javo-Mex and learned how the company disposed of the barrels. According to two Javo-Mex employees, when the barrels were empty, they were stored on the premises until another company, Jakacki Bag & Barrel (Jakacki), removed those barrels for reconditioning. Determining that the Javo-Mex facility "looked secure," Ruther continued his investigation at Jakacki. A few days later, Ruther received a call from the owner of Jakacki, who told Ruther that someone named "Mike" also may have received barrels from Javo-Mex. Ruther documented his investigation in several police reports.

Several days later, on November 23, 1993, at 10 a.m., Ruther and Zaglifa went to Javo-Mex. There, they waited for two hours before speaking with the owner of Javo-Mex, Joseph Cuevas, in Cuevas' office. It was during this meeting that the bribe demand allegedly occurred. Although Ruther denied being present for any Discussions relating to the bribe, Cuevas testified that Ruther explicitly requested $10,000 to halt the investigation into illegal dumping.

According to Cuevas, while in his office, Zaglifa advised him that he had "serious" problems regarding the dumping of Javo-Mex barrels. Zaglifa then told Cuevas that, because he was his "friend" *fn3 he would "squash" the investigation, but it would be expensive. Zaglifa left the room momentarily, telling Cuevas that Ruther would discuss that matter further. While Zaglifa was gone, Ruther took out a piece of paper and wrote "$10,000" on it, passing it to Cuevas. Cuevas then asked what it meant and Ruther responded that "this is what it would cost *** to dispose of the case." Cuevas attempted to keep the piece of paper, but Ruther took it from him, explaining that he did "not want this to be floating around as evidence."

When Zaglifa returned to the office, Cuevas remarked that "this guy wants $10,000," to which Zaglifa responded, "no shit." Although expressing surprise, Zaglifa explained the high cost, stating that he had "to take care of a lot of people." During the meeting, Ruther left the office several times. Cuevas then told Zaglifa that he needed time to think about it and would call him later. Zaglifa told Cuevas not to discuss the matter with anyone; he and Ruther then left Cuevas' office. Sometime later that afternoon, Ruther called Cuevas, but Cuevas told him that he preferred to deal with Zaglifa and would call him later.

Before calling Zaglifa, Cuevas spoke to three long-time employees who advised him to contact Javo-Mex's attorneys. Those attorneys, in turn, advised Cuevas to contact the Chicago Police Department, which he did shortly thereafter. As a result of Cuevas' information, an internal investigation was instituted by the police and state's attorney's office.

With Cuevas' permission, Sergeant Steven Jackson of the Chicago Police Department Internal Affairs Division (IAD) listened to telephone conversations between Zaglifa and Cuevas in November 1993. During a November 29, 1993, telephone call, Cuevas and Zaglifa confirmed a planned November 30, 1993, meeting and Zaglifa told Cuevas that the "numbers" (or bribe amount) "would have to stay the same." Sergeant Jackson's affidavit, containing information relayed to him by Cuevas and also a synopsis of the content of the telephone calls, was then prepared by the state's attorney's office to obtain an order for a confidential overhear (COH). *fn4

The November 30, 1993, meeting between Zaglifa and Cuevas took place in Cuevas' office and was audio-taped pursuant to the COH order; the content of the tape was admitted at Ruther's hearing. At that meeting, Cuevas brought $10,000 and gave it Zaglifa. Zaglifa then explained to Cuevas that he was getting none of the money; rather, 17 or 18 people in the "big wheel" were getting the bribe money. When Cuevas asked about the whereabouts of "his buddy" (Ruther) and expressed his concern because he did not know Ruther, Zaglifa stated that Ruther was "at a meeting with the Environmental Protection people" and told Cuevas to "trust" him and not "worry" about Ruther. Zaglifa further stated that he was the man in charge and Cuevas had to trust only him. Zaglifa then began a lengthy Discussion of his desire to return to his previous security job at Javo-Mex. Zaglifa and Cuevas also briefly discussed "Mike."

After Cuevas' testimony, Ruther testified to a significantly different scenario. According to Ruther, after he had begun his investigation and had discovered the possible involvement of "Mike" in the dumping, Zaglifa approached Ruther and told him to put his investigation "on hold until he had a chance to look into it." Ruther made a note of Zaglifa's request and placed it in his investigative file. The undated, unsigned "note" stated, "I was instructed to put this part of the investigation on hold by Sgt. Big."

On November 23, 1993, Zaglifa approached Ruther after roll-call and asked Ruther to accompany him to Javo-Mex that morning. Although Ruther did not want to go because he was preparing to leave on vacation that evening, he had "no choice." Ruther testified that he and Zaglifa arrived at Javo-Mex at 10 a.m. and waited until noon to see Cuevas. The three went to Cuevas' office where they spoke for approximately two hours.

Ruther denied ever soliciting a bribe or even speaking with Cuevas about money. Instead, he testified that he left the office five or six times, making phone calls, returning pages, and arranging his travel plans for later that evening. Ruther further denied calling Cuevas that afternoon. Ruther ...

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