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City of Philadelphia v. Civil Service Commission

January 16, 2009

CITY OF PHILADELPHIA
v.
CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION (RENEE JOHNSON)
APPEAL OF: RENEE JOHNSON



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joseph F. McCLOSKEY, Senior Judge

Submitted: December 5, 2008

ORDER

AND NOW, this 25 day of March, 2009, it is ordered that the above-captioned opinion filed January 16, 2009, shall be designated OPINION, rather than MEMORANDUM OPINION, and shall be reported.

BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, President Judge, HONORABLE RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge, HONORABLE JOSEPH F. McCLOSKEY, Senior Judge,.

OPINION

Renee Johnson (Johnson) appeals from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County (trial court), reversing the decision and order of the Civil Service Commission of the City of Philadelphia (the Commission), which had restored Johnson to her position as a Correctional Sergeant with the Philadelphia Prison System with full back pay and emoluments.*fn1 We now affirm.

The underlying facts and procedural history of this case can be summarized as follows. On September 29, 2004, police officers for the City of Philadelphia (the City) responded to a request from a fellow officer to assist him with a situation involving a growing crowd of people. Upon arriving at the scene, Johnson's daughter was repeatedly directed to disperse. She refused and was threatened with arrest. She continued to refuse and one of the officers attempted to place her under arrest. During this attempt to arrest Johnson's daughter, Johnson herself became involved in the situation. Johnson engaged in a physical confrontation with at least one officer and the police eventually arrested her as well.

Johnson faced numerous criminal charges, including criminal conspiracy, simple assault, aggravated assault, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. While the charges were pending, the City first suspended Johnson, placing her on administrative leave. However, the City later permitted Johnson to return to work before her criminal trial began. In May of 2006, a jury convicted Johnson of the charge of resisting arrest. Johnson was sentenced to a one-year period of probation plus court costs.

Following this conviction, the Philadelphia Prison System's Office of Professional Compliance charged Johnson with violating General Order No. 6 as well as Policy 1.C.11.1 of the Philadelphia Prisons Policies and Procedures (employee code of conduct). On September 14, 2006, a hearing was held with respect to these alleged violations before the Prison Board. After finding that Johnson had violated General Order No. 6 and Policy 1.C.11.1, the Prison Board recommended that she be suspended for a period of twenty days.*fn2 General Order 6 provides as follows:

Employees are responsible for maintaining professional deportment at all times. Employees shall maintain a quiet but firm demeanor in their contacts with inmates, not permitting any undue familiarity on the part of the inmates and refraining from it themselves. Employees will refrain from engaging in unprofessional or illegal behavior both on and off-duty that could in any manner reflect negatively on the [Philadelphia Prison System]. (R.R. at 55a) (Emphasis added).

The Prison Board's recommendation was thereafter forwarded to Leon King, Commissioner of Prisons. Despite the Prison Board's recommendation, Commissioner King decided to dismiss Johnson from her position. On December 1, 2006, the City issued Johnson a notice of intention to dismiss and on December 11, 2006, the City issued Johnson a notice of dismissal, effective December 12, 2006. A detailed summary of the reasons for dismissal also stated that a review of Johnson's arrest, sentencing and personnel record revealed that she had "little or no regard for [her] position with the Philadelphia Prison System." (R.R. at 50a).

Johnson appealed her dismissal to the Commission. The Commission conducted a hearing on May 1, 2007. At this hearing, the City presented the testimony of two of the primary police officers involved in the situation that led to Johnson's arrest on September 20, 2004, Officers Ian Lichterman, who was allegedly struck by Johnson, and Officer Christopher Rubino, who was one of the first responders to the call for assistance at the scene. These officers testified as to their respective recollections regarding the incident in question. The officers testified that they responded to another officer's request for assistance and that when the officers arrived on scene, they observed a large crowd of people, approximately 200 people according to Officer Lichterman. The officers attempted to direct these people, including Johnson's daughter, to disperse. Johnson's daughter, however, refused to obey the officers' commands and she was placed under arrest.

Specifically, Officer Lichterman testified that during the attempted arrest of Johnson's daughter, Johnson approached the officers and stated that "you're not going to lock up my daughter." (R.R. at 9a). Officer Lichterman testified that Johnson proceeded to strike him several times in his head and face. Officer Lichterman tried to push Johnson in a manner to distance himself from her, at which time Johnson grabbed him by the shirt collar, causing the shirt to be ripped, and causing both parties to fall to the ground. After a threat of pepper spray from other officers and a direct order from a police captain at the scene, Johnson released the officer and she was subsequently placed under arrest. Nevertheless, Officer Lichterman testified that Johnson remained hostile and continued to resist by struggling with the officers and refusing to enter the police wagon for transport.

Officer Rubino testified that he was the officer who arrested Johnson's daughter. Officer Rubino testified that Officer Lichterman initially attempted to assist him with this arrest, as she would not comply, but at some point disengaged to deal with Johnson. Officer Rubino testified that the only thing he saw thereafter was ...


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