Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A court may hold a law enforcement official to a higher standard in evaluating the penalty imposed if he or she is found guilty of misconduct after an administrative disciplinary action


A court may hold a law enforcement official to a higher standard in evaluating the penalty  imposed if he or she is found guilty of misconduct after an administrative disciplinary action  

A correction officer [Petitioner] employed by the Ulster County Sheriff’s Department and who was also a member of the Sheriff's Emergency Response Team, was served with disciplinary charges Civil Service Law §75 that alleged that his treatment of an inmate resulted in an injury to that individual. 

The Hearing Officer sustained two of the three charges* against Petitioner and recommended a penalty of a three-week suspension without pay. The Sheriff adopted the finding of the Hearing Officer that Petitioner was guilty of the two charges but rejected the Hearing Officer’s recommendation as to the penalty to be imposed. Instead of a suspension without pay, the Sheriff determined that that termination was the appropriate penalty.

Petitioner initiated a CPLR Article 78 proceeding challenging the Sheriff's determination but Supreme Court dismissed his petition. The Appellate Division affirmed Supreme Court’s ruling.

The Appellate Division said that Petitioner's sole challenge on appeal is to the penalty imposed by the Sheriff. However, explained the court, its review is "limited to whether the penalty is so disproportionate [to the offense] as to be shocking to one's sense of fairness."

Noting that

[1] “[a]s a law enforcement official, Petitioner's conduct may be held to a higher standard when we evaluate the appropriate penalty to be imposed;.”

[2] that Petitioner “was found to have caused an injury to a defenseless, handcuffed inmate over whose custody petitioner was in charge;” and

[3] the Sheriff explained in that his decision to terminate Petitioner's employment was based, in large measure, upon the fact that, “as a correction officer, Petitioner was required to handle the most difficult and sometimes dangerous individuals” and that "[d]isrespect and brutality of prisoners cannot and will not be tolerated."

the Appellate Division concluded that “[e]ven if there is mitigating evidence that could support a different result — such as Petitioner's otherwise unblemished record of service during his 10 years as a correction officer — we may not substitute our judgment for that of the Sheriff.”

As to penalty imposed, termination, the court said that considering Petitioner's position as a correction officer and a Sheriff's Emergency Response Team member and the serious nature of Petitioner's misconduct — an assault of a handcuffed inmate who petitioner was supervising at the time — as well as petitioner's failure to take responsibility for his actions, “the decision to terminate his employment does not shock our sense of fairness,” citing Pell v Board of Educ. of Union Free School Dist. No. 1 of Towns of Scarsdale & Mamaroneck, Westchester County, 34 NY2d 222.

The third disciplinary charge alleged misconduct based the correction officer’s arrest and being charged with assault in the third degree as a result of this incident. As the correction officer was acquitted of the criminal charge, the Hearing Officer did not sustain that disciplinary charge.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:


Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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