Fired Cook County police officers could be back on the job due to technicality
In a ruling that could cost taxpayers millions, a former Cook County officer who was fired for failing to disclose his criminal history will likely return to work and receive back pay.
Former Cook County Sheriff’s Officer Percy Taylor, who was fired in 2012, has won a ruling in his favor against the Cook County Board and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart over what essentially amounts to a technicality. The case could result in the county having to hire back scores of fired officers.
The Illinois Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a lower court’s ruling that found that Dart and the Cook County Board had improperly appointed members to the Cook County Sheriff’s Merit Board, which is responsible for disciplining and firing officers.
Taylor was fired from the Cook County Sheriff’s Office in 2012 after a long disciplinary process when it was discovered he did not inform his supervisors he had been convicted of drunk driving in Missouri and was accused of shooting an air rifle into a truck while his neighbor was inside the vehicle, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Taylor cried foul, and took the county to court. Though a judge originally affirmed his job termination, Taylor and his attorney, Richard Linden, came back later saying the merit board’s ruling was illegal because a person appointed to fill a midterm vacancy on the board had overstayed the expiration of the term – so the board was “not lawfully constituted,” and its decision on Taylor’s termination was invalid, according to the Tribune.
And it worked.
“I don’t know if it was great lawyering, but there it was,” Linden said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “I couldn’t imagine that the merit board would be that neglectful. It created a mess for the sheriff.”
Taylor now wants his old job back. And $400,000 in back pay, courtesy of Cook County taxpayers.
Other fired officers and their attorneys are also planning to take full advantage of the technicality, with one class-action lawsuit already popping up.
The disciplinary process is lengthy and difficult, as the Chicago Tribune points out. If a complaint is sustained and the punishment is a 30-day suspension or worse, the case goes before the merit board, which has to make a final decision. And a fired officer will sometimes contest the merit board’s decision in court.
Teamsters Local 700, a union representing Cook County Sheriff’s Office corrections officers, hasn’t stated how it’ll handle the ruling. One spokesman intimated that many of the discharged officers were fired due to “attendance issues,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Thanks to the county’s apparent mistake in managing the merit board, dozens of firings could be undone and hundreds of suspensions without pay could be revoked, which could cost the county millions in taxpayer dollars.
While there has been an effort in the Statehouse to rectify this problem, it appears that both chambers are not on the same page: The Illinois Senate passed a bill changing the law to allow for midterm appointments to the board; however, the Illinois House of Representatives has not acted on it.
The public should not be subjected to the social and financial costs of a flood of fired officers coming back to work. Officers fired for misconduct shouldn’t be allowed to return to their old jobs because of a technicality.
At the same time, the merit board – which was created to hold public employees accountable – must operate by its own rules to serve as an effective watchdog.