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Knight v. Bartlett

March 28, 2003


Appeal from the Circuit Court Cook county Honorable Dorothy K. Kinnaird, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Quinn


Plaintiff, Michael Knight, appeals from an order of the circuit court affirming the Village of Bartlett Police Pension Board's decision to deny plaintiff's application for a work-related disability pension. The Village of Bartlett (Bartlett), the Bartlett Police Pension Board (Board), and its individually named members and various Bartlett officials were named as defendants.

Following a hearing, the trial court upheld the decision of the Village of Bartlett Police Pension Board denying plaintiff Michael Knight's disability pension application. On appeal, plaintiff argues that: (1) the Board erred in finding that he was not disabled; (2) the Board should have found that his disability was duty-related; and (3) in the alternative, the Board should have found that his disability was non-duty-related. For the following reasons, we reverse the decisions of the trial court and the Board and enter judgment in favor of plaintiff, Michael Knight.


On January 10, 2000, Michael Knight (plaintiff), filed an application with the Board seeking a duty-related disability pension. At the May 8, 2000, the Board held a hearing to consider plaintiff's application, plaintiff testified that he had been a police officer in Bartlett for over 16 years. Before joining the Bartlett police department, plaintiff was a Cook County deputy sheriff for four years. Plaintiff was always a patrolman in Bartlett. In 1997, he was assigned to the Metropolitan Enforcement Group (MEG) of Cook County. MEG was a narcotics task force, and its officers were involved in undercover drug-buy operations. Plaintiff testified that as a MEG officer, he had made 50 to 75 arrests, and the majority of these arrests involved physical struggles with the arrestees. While assigned to MEG, plaintiff had been hit in the face and his life had been threatened.

In January 1999, plaintiff's ex-girlfriend lodged a complaint against him. Because he was a MEG officer, he was investigated by the Illinois State Police. The State Police investigation cleared plaintiff. After the state's investigation, the Bartlett police department launched it own internal investigation of plaintiff. Bartlett found plaintiff had used his official cell phone for personal calls and had taken long lunch breaks.

Plaintiff testified that while he was working as an undercover officer and being investigated by internal affairs, he started developing emotional problems, had difficulty sleeping and had recurring nightmares. Plaintiff further testified that he had many nightmares of going into a staff meeting and shooting at people in the meeting.

In March 1999, plaintiff was reassigned back from MEG to the Bartlett police department as a patrolman. In June 1999, while the Bartlett internal investigation was still underway, plaintiff had a verbal altercation with Bartlett Police Chief Daniel Palmer (Chief Palmer) during which plaintiff demanded the internal investigation on him be ended. As a result of the altercation, plaintiff received a five-day suspension.

On cross-examination, plaintiff testified that he dreamed of shooting Chief Palmer, Deputy Chief Dan Maloney and Bob Nicholas. Plaintiff believed these people were carrying out a personal vendetta against him. Plaintiff further testified that because he "started feeling the nightmares during daytimes," he went to see Dr. Julia Klco for help. Dr. Klco, a psychologist, recommended that plaintiff take a three-month stress leave from the police department because of his homicidal ideation. On June 6, 1999, plaintiff applied for and received from the police department a three-month leave due to stress. At the end of the leave, plaintiff was asked to surrender his police identification card and his badge and he was not allowed to return to work as a police officer. After not being allowed to return to work, plaintiff filed a disability petition with the Board. Throughout the hearing, plaintiff maintained that he did not believe he was disabled, and he wanted to resume his job as a police officer.

Plaintiff's fiancée, Stephanie Zizek, testified that she was living with plaintiff. She had seen and heard plaintiff "moaning, yelling and shaking" in his sleep. Zizek also testified that she believed plaintiff saw Chief Palmer and Deputy Chief Maloney in his nightmares.

Deputy Chief Maloney testified he had taken disciplinary action against plaintiff in the past. However, plaintiff never made any threats to him, nor did Deputy Chief Maloney ever hear that plaintiff had threatened any other employees in the department.

Chief Palmer testified that he had worked for the Bartlett police department since 1979. He had been the chief of police for the last seven years. Throughout these years, Chief Palmer had worked with plaintiff in various capacities. Chief Palmer testified that plaintiff had became more "aggressive, demanding, and pushy" since his tour in MEG. Chief Palmer further testified that one day in June 1999, plaintiff had walked into his office and demanded the internal investigation of him be ended. During this confrontation, Chief Palmer testified that plaintiff leaned across Chief Palmer's desk and stuck his finger in Chief Palmer's face. Chief Palmer felt threatened during the confrontation. Chief Palmer then ordered plaintiff to leave his office. As a result of this confrontation, Chief Palmer suspended plaintiff for five days. During the meeting with the police union regarding plaintiff's suspension, Chief Palmer suggested to the union representative that he advise plaintiff to get an evaluation. Shortly after, Chief Palmer received a report from Dr. Klco stating plaintiff had homicidal ideation. Upon seeing this report, Chief Palmer immediately ordered plaintiff to see Dr. Chiapetta, who performed work for the Bartlett police department. Dr. Chiapetta in turn referred plaintiff to Dr. Alexander Obolsky, a specialist in workplace violence. Based on Dr. Obolsky's report, Chief Palmer requested that plaintiff turn in his police identification and badge to the department. Chief Palmer then placed plaintiff on administrative leave pending the ruling on plaintiff's disability pension application. Chief Palmer testified that he did not believe plaintiff was fit to be a police officer.

On cross-examination, Chief Palmer testified that plaintiff was an average police officer prior to the MEG assignment. However, Chief Palmer noticed that plaintiff had a severe change in personality after he returned from MEG. Chief Palmer further testified that he felt threatened by plaintiff's "tone of voice, the body language, his eyes, and the whole thing."

During the hearing, the reports of psychologists Klco and Rabin and the report of Dr. Chiapetta were admitted into evidence. The certificates of disability and medical reports of Drs. Alexander E. Obolsky, Sheldon J. Meyers, Arnold Tobin and Michael Rabin were also admitted into evidence before the Board.

Dr. Obolsky, an expert in workplace violence, after having interviewed plaintiff for two hours, opined that plaintiff was permanently disabled, preventing him from performing police work. In the medical report, Dr. Obolsky stated "with a reasonable degree of medical psychiatric certainty that Officer Knight is currently unfit for duty as police officer ***. Officer Knight's unfit status is duty-related."

Dr. Sheldon J. Meyers, one of the three doctors selected by the Board, certified that plaintiff was permanently disabled for purposes of carrying out police work and that plaintiff's disability was duty-related. In his medical report, Dr. Meyers concluded that because plaintiff had homicidal ideation, it would not be appropriate for plaintiff to return to police duty.

Dr. Arnold Tobin, the second doctor selected by the Board, also examined plaintiff for the disability hearing. Dr. Tobin also certified that plaintiff was permanently disabled for purposes of performing police service. In his report, Dr. Tobin wrote that plaintiff was unfit for duty as a police officer and that he was suffering from passive-aggressive personality disorder. In addition, Dr. Tobin found plaintiff also had previously suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, which had been reawakened by the events of the past few years.

Dr. Richard P. Harris, the third doctor selected by the Board, initially concluded plaintiff was not permanently disabled for police service. Dr. Harris opined that plaintiff's problem was not a disability but, rather, an employment problem. In his initial report, Dr. Harris also pointed out that Knight was "not depicting himself as impaired so that he can collect disability money." Upon reviewing the opinions of the other doctors, Dr. Harris concluded that plaintiff had psychological problems but that plaintiff was not psychologically disabled.

The Board concluded that, in ...

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