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Taylor v. Cook County Sheriff's Merit Board

September 15, 2000


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 98 CH 9967 Honorable Dorothy Kinnaird, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Greiman

Defendant Sheriff Michael Sheahan charged plaintiff Arthur Taylor (Taylor) with a violation of the rules and regulations of the Cook County Department of Corrections (DOC) and sought his dismissal as an officer with the DOC. The complaint was filed with the defendant Cook County Sheriff's Merit Board (Board), which conducted a hearing regarding the matter. At the hearing's close, the Board issued an order finding cause for separation. Taylor then brought this action for administrative review following his decertification, and the circuit court affirmed the Board's ruling. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the decisions of the Board and of the circuit court and remand to the Board for further proceedings.

The Cook County sheriff's complaint alleged that Taylor: (1) submitted and certified four separate employment applications containing false answers concerning his criminal background history; (2) violated General Order 4.1, paragraph III, section A-18, prohibiting the making of a false official report; and (3) violated Article X, paragraph B, section 3, of the Board's rules and regulations prohibiting the violation of general orders.

In short, the sheriff charged Taylor with "making a false official report" on the basis that he filed four separate employment applications with the sheriff's office that all supplied false or misleading information regarding his criminal history. Apparently, the sheriff construed these employment applications as "official reports" and thus concluded that Taylor's submissions constituted the making of a false official report. For reasons not apparent from the record, the Board chose not to charge Taylor with Article X, paragraph B, section 5, of the rules and regulations, which empowers the Board to discipline officers who "have provided false or misleading information during the hiring process."

On April 9, 1987, plaintiff filed his first employment application with the sheriff's office. One of the questions inquired whether the applicant had ever been convicted of anything other than a minor traffic violation. In response, Taylor answered "No." At the end of the application, Taylor signed his name and certified that the contents of the application were true. However, about a year later, in a letter dated February 26, 1988, Taylor revealed to the Board the existence of a conviction for resisting arrest and obstructing a police officer, for which he was sentenced to one year of non-reporting probation. This letter did not coincide with the filing of an employment application. It is undisputed that on December 5, 1983, plaintiff pled guilty to this criminal offense.

On September 1, 1989, plaintiff again submitted an employment application with the sheriff's office, and this time he did not respond to the same question regarding previous convictions. Taylor was hired as a Cook County correctional officer that same month. A few months after having been hired, Taylor resigned and took a job with the Illinois State Police.

On December 28, 1990, after resigning from the Illinois State Police, plaintiff submitted another employment application with the Cook County sheriff's office, seeking to be rehired. In this application, he again represented that he had never been convicted of a crime. This application also included plaintiff's signature and a certification that the contents of the application were true.

Finally, on January 2, 1991, plaintiff submitted a fourth employment application, which he again signed and certified, and again represented that he had never been convicted of a crime. Plaintiff was subsequently hired and began his second job with the DOC on January 2, 1991.

On April 29, 1998, at the hearing before the Board, Taylor claimed that in 1987 he spoke to a Mr. James Hogan from the Board about filling out the employment application. Taylor testified that he told Mr. Hogan about his 1983 conviction and that Mr. Hogan told him to mark "No" on the application, indicating that he had never been convicted of a crime other than a traffic offense. He also testified that when he filled out the January 2, 1991, application, he spoke to an unknown female clerk at the sheriff's office who gave him the employment application. She too advised him to answer the question regarding criminal history with a "No." Aside from these two individuals, no one else gave him the advice to answer "No" on the applications.

After the hearing, the Board found that Taylor "made a false report" regarding his criminal history in his employment application. Based on those findings, the Board entered an order on June 23, 1998, that plaintiff be terminated from his employment effective July 31, 1997. Taylor then challenged the Board's decision in the circuit court of Cook County. On April 27, 1999, the trial court affirmed the decision of the Board and entered an order that the decision of the Board was not against the manifest weight of the evidence, that Taylor made a false report, and that there was sufficient cause for discharge. The trial court then denied plaintiff's post-judgment motion, and plaintiff now appeals.

Under Dwyer v. Police Board, 31 Ill. App. 3d 246, 249 (1975), plaintiff asserts that the term "official report" has a specific meaning, which is that it relates to an officer's "official duties" as that term is used in the sense of obligations ordinarily associated with police work. Plaintiff's first contention is that his conduct of denying and omitting his conviction on his employment application was not and did not involve a matter related to his official duties as a correctional officer, as he was not employed by the sheriff at the time he engaged in such conduct. Because Taylor had no "official duties" at the time of his application, he reasons that it would be impossible for him to produce an "official report." Although not enacted by the same administrative body, the pertinent Chicago police board's rule that was allegedly violated in Dwyer was "Making a false report, written or oral." Dwyer, 31 Ill. App. 3d at 247. There, this court found that an officer's refusal to answer a grand jury question concerning "who his employer was" and a subsequent internal affairs inquiry regarding that refusal did not relate to the officer's official duties, and therefore, such answers could not constitute an official report. Dwyer, 31 Ill. App. 3d at 249.

Plaintiff also points to this court's examination of that rule in Noro v. Police Board, 47 Ill. App. 3d 872 (1977). There, before a grand jury, an officer was asked whether "he was a Chicago police officer," and he refused to answer. Noro, 47 Ill. App. 3d at 874. Later, his superiors asked him if he had refused to answer questions relating to his conduct as a police officer. The court found that when he answered "No," he gave a false answer that fell within the ambit of "making a false report" because it was an attempt to mislead his superiors concerning his duties as an officer. Noro, 31 Ill. App. 3d at 877. The court found the facts in Noro inapposite to Dwyer, as the officer in Dwyer was only asked if he would answer a question as to "who his employer was," as opposed to "if he was a Chicago police officer." Noro, 31 Ill. App. 3d at 877. By comparison, Taylor claims that filling out an employment application is not a task or obligation associated with police work and, furthermore, that it is not a report to a superior officer about one's conduct as an officer. However, he concedes that if he had offered deceptive answers to his superiors after he had been appointed, that would have been a violation of the rule as interpreted by Noro.

On this point, Taylor cites two additional cases that help chalk out this court's definition of "official report." In Shallow v. Police Board, 95 Ill. App. 3d 901 (1981), where an officer's dismissal was sought for "making a false report, written or oral," the Board's determination that a false report had been made was rejected where a false statement was not made on an official report, where the oral statement was a denial, and where the report was never admitted into evidence. Shallow, 95 Ill. App. 3d at 909. Similarly, plaintiff notes, in Phillips v. Civil Service Commission, 172 Ill. App. 3d 278 (1988), a social worker was charged with falsifying her reports concerning her official duties where the evidence indicated that the employee had prepared reports for which there were no contemporaneous notes or investigative reports. Phillips, 172 Ill. App. 3d at 287. Taylor emphasizes that, unlike the present case, Phillips actually made a report concerning a matter for which she actually had a duty to report, and the contents of that report were found to be false.

In response, defendants agree that an official report must relate to an officer's "official duties," as that term is used in the sense of obligations ordinarily associated with police work. However, they also assert that because plaintiff has not supplied any case law which shows that an employment application is not an official report, it is equally as reasonable that the application is the first obligation of every active police officer in that it commences the employer/employee relationship. ...

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