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WILLIAM C. WILSON v. CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION TOWNSHIP WILKINS (06/17/77)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: June 17, 1977.

WILLIAM C. WILSON, APPELLANT
v.
CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION OF THE TOWNSHIP OF WILKINS, APPELLEE

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in case of In Re: Appeal of William C. Wilson, No. S.A. 794 of 1975.

COUNSEL

Allan E. Dreeland, with him Ronald P. Koerner, and Gatz, Cohen, Segal & Koerner, for appellant.

John M. Means, with him Markel, Levenson, Schafer & Means, for appellee.

Judges Kramer, Mencer and Rogers, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Mencer.

Author: Mencer

[ 30 Pa. Commw. Page 573]

This matter is before the Court on an appeal by William C. Wilson from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County which affirmed a decision of the Civil Service Commission of Wilkins Township (Commission) suspending Wilson from the township police force for 30 days and temporarily reducing his rank.

[ 30 Pa. Commw. Page 574]

On July 9, 1975, Officer Wilson was off duty. That evening he, his wife, and another couple went out socially for dinner and a few drinks. Before returning to his home at about 2:45 the next morning, Wilson admittedly consumed four to six drinks. Sometime between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m., Wilson and his wife had a disagreement and she left their home. Immediately thereafter, in an apparent attempt to unload a handgun, Wilson shot himself in the finger. He was taken to the hospital.

Later that day, Wilson was notified in writing that his conduct was considered disobedience of an order prohibiting the unauthorized carrying of firearms while off duty and conduct unbecoming an officer under Section 644 of The First Class Township Code.*fn1 After an investigation, Wilson was notified that his action was deemed to constitute "inefficiency, neglect, intemperance, disobedience of orders, and conduct unbecoming an officer" within the meaning of Section 644. Two past suspensions for intemperance were taken into account in imposing the disciplinary action of permanent reduction in rank and a 60-day suspension. Wilson appealed the disciplinary action to the Commission.

The Commission held a hearing at which testimony of a nurse was admitted. The nurse, who treated Wilson when he entered the hospital, testified that she had been asked not to report the wound. Other evidence established the aforementioned facts. After considering all the evidence, the Commission reduced Wilson's suspension to 30 days, and it reduced him in rank for

[ 30 Pa. Commw. Page 575]

    only 9 months. Wilson appealed to the common pleas court, which affirmed the Commission's order without taking additional testimony. Wilson then appealed to this Court.

When, as here, the court below took no additional testimony and received no additional evidence on the merits, our scope of review is to determine whether or not the Commission abused its discretion or committed an error of law. Banks v. Board of Commissioners, 7 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 393, 298 A.2d 923 (1973). With this in mind, we note that the charges against Wilson were clearly those permitted by Section 644 of the Code. Included in those charges was the charge of conduct unbecoming an officer.

'Unbecoming conduct on the part of a municipal employee, especially a policeman or fireman, is any conduct which adversely affects the morale or efficiency of the bureau to which he is assigned. It is indispensable to good government that a certain amount of discipline be maintained in the public service. Unbecoming conduct is also any conduct which has a tendency to destroy public respect for municipal employees and confidence in the operation of municipal services. It is not necessary that the alleged conduct be criminal in character nor that it be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.' (Emphasis in original.)

Banks, supra, 7 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. at 397, 298 A.2d at 925.

Surely, the actions of which the Commission found Wilson to be guilty fit within this definition. Public respect and confidence in Wilkins Township could not have been enhanced by his conduct. Nor was the discipline necessary for good government maintained by the unauthorized handling and unfortunate discharge

[ 30 Pa. Commw. Page 576]

    of a loaded handgun. Accordingly, we find no reason to upset the decision of the Commission.*fn2

Order affirmed.

Order

And Now, this 17th day of June, 1977, the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in the above captioned matter is hereby affirmed.

Disposition

Affirmed.


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