Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County in case of Jeffrey Thompson v. Township of Silver Spring, No. 334 Civil 1984.
Richard C. Snelbaker, Snelbaker, McCaleb & Elicker, for appellant.
P. Richard Wagner, for appellee.
Judges Doyle and Colins, and Senior Judge Barbieri, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Doyle.
[ 90 Pa. Commw. Page 457]
The Township of Silver Spring (Appellant) appeals from the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County's reversal of an order of the Township Board of Supervisors (Board) which had removed Officer Jeffrey Thompson from the Silver Spring Township Police Department for conduct unbecoming an officer.
The relevant facts may be summarized briefly. On December 21, 1982, a quantity of silver coins, which had been recovered by a township police officer in connection with a burglary, was placed in a filing cabinet in the Township Manager's office for safekeeping. On February 14, 1983, the coins were discovered to be missing. Subsequent to this discovery, the Chief of Police (Chief Toomey) questioned all six officers in the force, the Township Manager and the two secretaries who had access to the filing cabinet, about the disappearance. All of these people professed ignorance
[ 90 Pa. Commw. Page 458]
of the matter, and all were subsequently required by Chief Toomey to submit to a polygraph examination to determine the veracity of their statements.*fn1 The polygraph examiner reported to Chief Toomey that his interpretation of the results indicated that only the Appellee had been deceptive in his responses to questions concerning theft of the coins.*fn2 Solely on the basis of this interpretation, charges of conduct unbecoming an officer were filed against the Appellee. At a hearing held before the Board on October 23, 1983, the polygraph results were admitted over the objection of counsel for the Appellee, and on January 11, 1984, Appellee was dismissed. The court of common pleas, in an exceptionally well-reasoned opinion, reversed the Board on two grounds, concluding first that the results of a polygraph examination were not admissible in an administrative proceeding, and secondly, that even if the results of this test had been properly admitted, standing alone they did not amount to the substantial evidence required to support the Board's findings. Appellee was reinstated with back pay.
[ 90 Pa. Commw. Page 459]
Since this matter was decided on the basis of proceedings before the Township Board of Supervisors, our review is limited to the record and order of the Board. We are, as was the trial court, constrained to affirm the Board's adjudication unless we find that it is in violation of the constitutional rights of the Appellee or not in accordance with law, or that any essential finding of fact made by the Board is not supported by substantial evidence. Section 754(b) of the Local Agency Law, 2 Pa. C.S. § 754(b).
The question of law with which we are squarely confronted in this appeal is whether or not the results of a polygraph examination are admissible as evidence in a local agency proceeding which is brought for the purpose of dismissing a police officer under the Police Tenure Act,*fn3 53 P.S. §§ 811-816. In order to answer this question, we must first assess the effects of two superficially unrelated statutory provisions.
Section 554 of the Local Agency Law, 2 Pa. C.S. § 554, provides that "[l]ocal agencies shall not be bound by technical rules of evidence at agency hearings, and all relevant evidence of reasonably probative value may be received." Keeping in mind that Appellee was not charged with theft, but rather with giving deceptive responses to inquires concerning the disappearance of evidence in connection with a police investigation, we believe there is no question that the test results would be quite probative of these charges if they were accurate. In regard ...