Tell a Lie and All Your Truths Become Questionable: Appellate Court Orders an Untruthful Officer to be Fired On Public Policy Grounds
On December 24, 2020, the Illinois Appellate Court First District ruled that it is the public policy of the State of Illinois that police officers are to be honest and truthful in conducting their police duties. In City of Country Club Hills v. Derrick Charles, the court overturned an arbitration decision reinstating a police officer who had been terminated by the City for two incidents of dishonesty in his work.
The City of Country Club Hills terminated an officer who it found had been dishonest in conducting some of his police duties. The officer grieved his termination. The arbitrator found that the City had met its burden of showing that the officer did engage in misconduct when he was untruthful in performing some of his police duties. However, the arbitrator found that the misconduct was not serious enough to warrant discharge and ordered the City reinstate the officer and issue a written warning instead.
The City requested review of the arbitrator’s decision in the circuit court on the grounds that the arbitration award violated public policy. The circuit court rejected the City’s claims and upheld the award. The City then appealed to the Illinois Appellate Court First District and the appellate court reversed. The appellate court held that the arbitration award violated public policy because “police officers [must] be absolutely honest.” The court noted the arbitrator’s findings that the officer had engaged in misconduct by being untruthful in the performance of some of his duties raised serious concerns about the officer’s ability to continue to perform his duties. The court’s concerns about the officer’s performance stemmed from the issue that his “credibility as a witness [would] be undermined for the remainder of his career, and would encourage other officers to be dishonest . . . knowing that, if caught, they would receive only a light penalty.” Thus, the court ordered the arbitrator to rescind the written reprimand and reinstate the discharge.
The Appellate Court reflected that a single lie could spoil the reputation of an officer and have a rippling effect on an entire department. The appellate court was sure to qualify that the law does not require termination in all instances of dishonesty; incidents of officer dishonesty should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and taken seriously by employers and arbitrators reviewing discipline decisions.
As noted, the Appellate Court discussed that the facts of this case, and all cases, are unique. Yet, the significance of its finding that police honesty is the public policy cannot be understated. Municipalities and reviewing arbitrators will take findings of officer dishonesty very seriously and may result in more officer terminations with the aim of shielding the departments and public from a distrusting relationship.