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Valio v. Board of Fire and Police Commissioners of the Village of Itasca

February 03, 2000

JOSEPH VALIO,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
V.
THE BOARD OF FIRE AND POLICE COMMISSIONERS OF THE VILLAGE OF ITASCA; CHERYL MEYN, DANIEL MCDONALD, AND JOHN BINNEBOSE, MEMBERS; AND MICHAEL J. MCDONALD, CHIEF OF POLICE OF THE VILLAGE OF ITASCA,
DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 98--MR--132 Honorable John W. Darrah, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McLAREN delivered the opinion of the court

The defendants, the Board of Fire and Police Commissioners of the Village of Itasca and its members, Cheryl Meyn, Daniel McDonald, and John Binnebose (collectively, the Board), and Michael J. McDonald, chief of police of the Village of Itasca, appeal the circuit court's reversal of the Board's termination of the plaintiff, Joseph Valio, for violations of certain Itasca police department rules and regulations.

We reverse and reinstate the decision of the Board.

The following facts are taken from the record. In November, 1997, defendant Michael McDonald, the Village of Itasca chief of police, filed three charges against the plaintiff, Joseph Valio, seeking the plaintiff's termination from the Itasca police department. The complaint alleged that the plaintiff violated 11 different rules and regulations of the Itasca police department. The charges concerned three separate incidents, two emergency incidents occurring on October 19 and 23, 1997, and the investigation that followed the October 19, 1997, incident. After a hearing, the Board terminated the plaintiff. The plaintiff filed a complaint for administrative review with the circuit court. The circuit court reversed the Board's findings and decision.

CHARGE No. ONE - MEDICAL EMERGENCY

The first charge against the plaintiff concerned a medical emergency call on October 19, 1997. The complaint alleged that the plaintiff improperly responded to the medical emergency and filed an unacceptable report both in violation of certain police department rules and regulations.

The evidence at the Board hearing revealed that, while on duty, the plaintiff was dispatched to respond to a "man passed out and unresponsive" at an address in Itasca. Commander Rusty Votava testified that the dispatch received by the plaintiff was a medical emergency requiring a code 1 response which, according to the Itasca police department manual, included full use of lights and sirens. The plaintiff responded to the October 19, 1997, dispatch with a code 3, using no lights or sirens. Votava testified that code 3 responses were for non-emergency calls only. The medical emergency involved a fatal heart attack. The plaintiff arrived at the scene 6½ minutes later.

Chief McDonald testified that this was an unacceptable response time. He also stated that the plaintiff was aware of the proper responses because he had been disciplined and counseled for an improper code response the previous year. McDonald explained that proper code level responses were necessary to ensure proper response times to incidents for the safety of other vehicles on the road, to aid dispatchers, and to reduce the Village's potential liability.

The plaintiff explained that he did not believe the dispatch required a code 1 because he believed the dispatch was for "a man passed out" and not "a man passed out and unresponsive." However, Commander Michael Harrison testified that both "a man passed out" and "a man passed out and unresponsive" were medical emergencies requiring a code 1 response.

The plaintiff was also charged with filing an improper report regarding the October 19 incident. Chief McDonald testified that the plaintiff's two-page report was grossly inadequate for a death report. The report did not indicate what had occurred, what the heart attack victim was doing immediately before he died, the location of the body, the identification of witnesses, or any other information that would help determine how the victim died. The plaintiff later submitted a second, more detailed report.

McDonald stated that in 1996 the plaintiff was reprimanded for writing an improper report in connection with another death and was reminded of the proper way of writing a police report. At all times the plaintiff had access to a report-writing manual that contained instructions on how to prepare reports.

CHARGE No. TWO - TRAFFIC ACCIDENT

The second charge against the plaintiff concerned a severe traffic accident that occurred on October 23, 1997, 500 feet outside the Itasca boundary. The accident involved five vehicles, including a semi tractor-trailer and a Honda CRX. The plaintiff, on duty in a marked Itasca squad car, was en route to assist another officer in obtaining a warrant when he passed the accident. As the plaintiff passed the scene, the CRX was crushed, the semi was pushed into the back end of the CRX, and the front of the CRX was severely damaged. Deputy Sheriff Martin Dedera, the investigating officer at the scene, testified that the accident blocked Rohlwing Road and vehicles were on the shoulder in a nearby ditch. Gasoline and debris had spilled onto the roadway, causing a potential fire hazard and hazardous materials situation. Numerous public servants, such as Deputy Sheriff Dedera and a paramedic, and regular citizens, including an off-duty nurse, who saw the scene stated that it was obvious that the accident was severe and it appeared that life-threatening injuries were involved.

It was uncontroverted that, although the accident occurred 500 feet outside the Itasca border, the accident affected persons traveling into and out of Itasca. The accident occurred at the height of morning rush hour traffic, and the traffic condition was dangerous because traffic in both directions had to drive on the shoulders to avoid the accident and the debris.

The plaintiff explained that he drove by the scene at about 10 miles per hour and did a "rolling assessment." The plaintiff saw no injuries and concluded that it was an accident involving property damage only. The plaintiff stated that he was not obligated to stop at the scene because a rule established by a former Itasca ...


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