Demonstrative Evidence • Hiring/Firing • Assault • Civil Service Commission

Ladd v. Borough of West Reading Civil Service Comm’n, PICS Case No. 14-0483 (C.P. Berks March 18, 2014) Sprecher, J. (11 pages).

Appellant Ronald Ladd appealed an order denying his appeal and affirming the decision of appellee Borough of West Reading Civil Service Commission. Denial affirmed.

Ladd was a police officer for the Borough of West Reading from May 16, 1994 through Nov. 14, 2012. Ladd had prior police experience in Berks County along with thirty years of military service. On Aug. 31, 2012, Ladd returned to work following an extended leave of absence due to surgery on his hand. Upon his return, he was assigned to the squad of Sergeant Rick Vetter; the assignment was a joint decision between Chief Edward Fabriziani and the Borough mayor. Ladd opposed the assignment because he did not want to work with another officer on the squad, Officer Tom Hawn. Ladd alleged that Hawn was historically negative about him and was suspended once for threatening to shoot Ladd and his partner.

Ladd’s re-assignment was denied. Fabriziani testified that in order to maintain order and discipline, officers were not permitted to challenge their assignments.

Ladd and Hawn responded to a domestic violence call to which Ladd alleged Hawn yelled at him in front of the parties. Ladd returned to the station, completed his report on the call and went to speak to Fabriziani regarding Hawn’s conduct. Ladd testified that Fabriziani and he engaged in a pushing match but he did not “think” he punched Fabriziani during the struggle. Fabriziani claimed Ladd failed to calm down during the conversation and was disobeying a direct order to sit. Fabriziani alleged Ladd struck him below the left eye and slammed his face into a bookcase. When the incident calmed, Fabriziani ordered Ladd to be placed on administrative leave pending disciplinary procedures. Following an investigation, the Borough Council voted unanimously to terminate Ladd.

Based on the record, this court sustained the Civil Service Commission’s determination of termination and denied Ladd’s appeal. Ladd filed a timely appeal of said determination.

Where a court had not received any additional evidence or testimony on an appeal from a civil service commission’s decision, the scope of review is limited to determining whether the commission has committed an error of law or abused its discretion. The court found that as Ladd’s termination was based on conduct unbecoming an officer, said termination was just cause for dismissal and need not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Further, the commission’s decision was based on sufficient evidence and Ladd was not prejudiced by any public record of the incident. Finally, the court held that the commission, as fact finder, determined the credibility of the evidence and such determinations were within its province. The court found that Ladd’s appeal was denied and this court’s order sustaining the decision of the commission affirmed.