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Johnson v. O'Connor

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division

July 31, 2018

EDDIE JOHNSON, in His Official Capacity as Superintendent of the City of Chicago Police Department, and THE CITY OF CHICAGO, Petitioners-Appellees,
v.
EDWARD O'CONNOR and THE HUMAN RESOURCES BOARD OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, Respondents (Edward O'Connor, Respondent-Appellant).

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. No. 16 CH 120003 Honorable Franklin U. Valderrama, Judge Presiding.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE MASON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Hoffman [1] and Justice Pucinski concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          MASON PRESIDING JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Respondent-appellant Edward O'Connor was removed from a list of eligible candidates for a position as a Chicago police officer based on his admission that he had twice been arrested for domestic battery in 2003 and 2014. Following a hearing on his removal, he was reinstated to the eligibility list by respondent Human Resources Board of the City of Chicago (Board). Petitioners-appellees Eddie Johnson, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) superintendent, and the City of Chicago (petitioners) petitioned for a common law writ of certiorari in the circuit court to review the Board's decision. The court reversed the decision of the Board, and O'Connor appeals. For the reasons that follow, we affirm and remand with directions.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 In 2014, O'Connor applied for a position as a probationary police officer with the CPD. Part of the application process required completing a personal history questionnaire, in which O'Connor admitted that he had been arrested for domestic battery against his mother in 2003, when he was 18, and against his roommate and ex-girlfriend in 2014.

         ¶ 4 O'Connor wrote that in 2003 he was living with his mother, a retired police officer. One morning, his mother woke him up and asked him to do chores, but he said no because he had to leave for work and told her he would do them when he returned. According to O'Connor, his mother yelled at him, and he repeated his refusal to do the chores and slammed the door in her face, whereupon his mother had him arrested for domestic violence. O'Connor's narrative with regard to the 2014 incident indicated that his roommate "became enraged" after he declined to take her to the grocery store and threatened to ruin his life by hitting herself and telling the police that he did it. O'Connor laughed and walked away, and his roommate then called the police saying O'Connor hit her, when in fact she hit herself with an object she found next to the parking lot of O'Connor's apartment. The police arrived and arrested O'Connor, disbelieving his claim that his roommate injured herself.

         ¶ 5 An administrative special order (Special Order) by the CPD provides that "[a]ny conduct demonstrating a propensity for violence may be grounds for disqualification." Such conduct includes battery and domestic violence. Based on this Special Order, and following a background investigation in which the CPD obtained police reports of the arrests, Investigator Stanley Golucki recommended that O'Connor be disqualified for the position of police officer. The CPD accepted the recommendation and advised the Department of Human Resources (DHR) to remove O'Connor from the list of eligible candidates.

         ¶ 6 On June 26, 2015, DHR notified O'Connor of his removal from the list but informed him that he could challenge the removal by requesting a hearing with the Board, which he did. At the hearing, which was held on December 16, 2015, Golucki, O'Connor, O'Connor's mother, Karen O'Connor, and O'Connor's girlfriend, Tanya Dovichi, all testified. Golucki testified to the contents of the arrest report of the 2003 incident, which was also made part of the record.[2] The 2003 arrest report indicated that when police arrived at Karen's house, she told them that she and O'Connor engaged in a verbal dispute after she asked him for help around the house. O'Connor grabbed Karen by the neck and threw her to the kitchen floor, causing her injury. Karen declined treatment and to have photos taken of her neck, which the report described as "reddened." O'Connor "freely stated" that he "didn't grab [Karen] that hard." The officers took O'Connor into custody and advised Karen of the upcoming court date. O'Connor was charged with domestic battery, but the charge was ultimately stricken with leave to reinstate.

         ¶ 7 Karen testified that one morning when O'Connor was about 17 or 18 years old and living with her, she woke him up to ask for his help in moving something. When O'Connor did not get out of bed, Karen took his car keys and told him to walk to work. This prompted O'Connor to get out of bed and follow Karen to the kitchen, where he grabbed the keys out of Karen's hand. During the struggle with the keys, Karen slipped and fell. She denied that O'Connor threw her to the floor or that he choked her. Karen testified that she called the police to "teach [O'Connor] a lesson" not to put his hands on her. On cross-examination, Karen testified that she was surprised the police report indicated that O'Connor grabbed her by the neck and threw her to the floor. She was also surprised that the report described her as having a reddened neck.

         ¶ 8 In his testimony, O'Connor agreed with his mother's description of the 2003 incident. He clarified that when he went to the kitchen to retrieve the keys, his mother had her back to him and was holding the keys in her fist, but the lanyard attached to the key ring was free. O'Connor approached Karen from behind and grabbed the lanyard to pull the keys from her hands. According to O'Connor, Karen then bumped him and he started to fall backwards while still holding the lanyard, which caused Karen to fall down. O'Connor denied choking Karen, throwing her to the ground, or punching her. He testified that he learned a lesson, and the charges were dismissed.

         ¶ 9 The hearing officer's report found that it was more likely than not that O'Connor engaged in domestic battery against his mother in 2003, but that it was not more likely than not that O'Connor committed domestic battery in 2014. The hearing officer concluded that although "one instance of domestic battery was shown more likely than not, it occurred 13 years ago when [O'Connor] was a teen; once [sic] instance alone does not show a propensity." Accordingly, the hearing officer recommended to the Board that the decision of the CPD be reversed and O'Connor's name be returned to the eligibility list.

         ¶ 10 In July 2016, the Board adopted the hearing officer's findings and recommendations in their entirety and reinstated O'Connor to the eligibility list.

         ¶ 11 Johnson petitioned the circuit court for a common law writ of certiorari. Following briefing and oral argument, the court reversed the decision of the Board holding that the hearing officer's conclusion that a single violent incident is insufficient to demonstrate a propensity for ...


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