Throwing Rock Through Ex-Wife’s Car Window Justifies Termination

When Indiana State Trooper Daniel Criswell’s ex-wife Stephanie Criswell needed a new car, Daniel helped her select an Audi A-4 being sold by Pete and Pamela Passon. The Passons and Stephanie executed a bill of sale conveying the car to Stephanie for $500. But despite the listed price, Daniel gave the Passons an envelope containing $3,000 in cash to complete the purchase.

The Passons passed along the car’s title to Daniel a short time later, al­though the title did not list any details about the car’s new owner. Stephanie drove the car after the purchase, but no one registered it with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles or paid taxes on the vehicle at this time.

About a month later, during an argument with Stephanie, Daniel picked up a rock from their driveway and threw it at the Audi, breaking the rear window. Neither party reported the incident to police. Later that month, Indiana State Police (ISP) learned of allegations that Daniel had battered Stephanie and assigned Sergeant Jason Fajt to investigate.

Nothing came of the battery allega­tions, but through Fajt’s investigation, ISP learned about the rock throwing incident. When interviewed by Fajt, both Daniel and Stephanie confirmed that Daniel threw a rock at the Audi, and Daniel further admitted to breaking the car’s rear window. Stephanie also referred to the car as “my car” multiple times and never suggested that Daniel owned the Audi. A title check on the car with the BMV showed Stephanie as the owner, although she had registered the vehicle nearly a month after the window was broken and had listed a purchase date after the incident as well.

Four days later, Daniel emailed Fajt a copy of a hand-written document that Daniel claimed was a bill of sale showing that he sold the Audi to Stephanie two weeks after he threw the rock through its window. Daniel also provided Fajt with an insurance card demonstrating that the Audi was insured under his name during the incident and a repair bill for the Audi’s window showing him as the owner.

Eventually, the ISP terminated Daniel’s employment, citing the rock-throwing incident and his inter­ference with the investigation into his conduct. Daniel appealed, alleging that the termination was arbitrary and capri­cious and unsupported by substantial evidence. The Indiana Court of Appeals disagreed and upheld the termination.

The Court found that “an agency’s decision is arbitrary and capricious when it is made without consideration of the facts and lacks any basis that may lead a reasonable person to make the decision made by the agency. Put another way, an agency’s decision is arbitrary and capricious if it is patently unreasonable or is issued in disregard of the undisputed facts and circumstances.

“As for Daniel’s other claim for relief, that the ISP’s decision was not supported by substantial evidence, he must show that the evidence amounts to less than a scintilla. In other words, substantial evidence is something less than a preponderance of the evidence.

“Substantial evidence supports the ISP Board’s finding that Stephanie owned the Audi when Daniel broke its window. For starters, it is uncontested that the first document reflecting a change of ownership in the car, the Passon Bill of Sale, bears Stephanie’s name. Although the bill of sale lists an incorrect purchase price, this does not render the whole document fraudulent, as Daniel claims.

“Substantial evidence also supports the finding that Daniel interfered with the investigation. The computer system access logs show Daniel viewed doc­uments pertinent to the investigation against him more than 400 times. Daniel attempts to counter the impropriety of his actions by pointing out that, although he was suspended, viewing the comput­er records did not violate ISP rules at the time. However, the written charge against him states that it was Daniel’s interference with the investigation – that is, what he did with the information he accessed from the computer – that prompted his termination. Daniel’s improper viewing of the computer data only emerged after investigators became suspicious about his knowledge and preparedness for the investigation. This coupled with Daniel’s submission of his own handwritten bill of sale just four days after the bill of sale was uploaded into the system, supports the inference that Daniel used the information to interfere with the investigation, not out of his own curiosity, as he describes it.”

Criswell v. Carter, 2023 WL 3088297 (Ind. App. 2023).

This article appears in the July 2023 issue of our monthly newsletter, Public Safety Labor News.

Also in the July 2023 issue:

  • Arbitrator Orders In-Person Rather Than Video Hearing
  • Court Orders Recertification Of Officer
  • No Due Process Right To Promotion To Chief
  • Court Upholds Arbitrator’s Sick Leave Abuse Decision
  • No Privacy Right To Masturbate While On Duty
  • Firefighter’s Union Did Not Breach DFR
  • Retired Officer Denied Right To Carry Gun Across State Lines
  • Fire Department Loses Lawsuit Against Town
  • Union Entitled To Investigatory Statements
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