Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Lakewood cop appeals four-day unpaid suspension

On December 30, 2013, a Lakewood Township (Ocean County) police officer appealed a judge's decision to uphold a four-day unpaid suspension that was levied against the officer for driving his patrol car in an unsafe manner, leading to a September 28, 2012 collision with another patrol car.  According the court filings, the same officer had received a two-day suspension in April 2012 for the another instance of driving a patrol car in an unsafe manner.

An Internal Affairs investigation found that the officer, Dennis Dowden, was following Officer Jeremy Felder's patrol car when both officers were dispatched to a robbery where the victim was chasing the perpetrator.  Felder, missing a turn, hit his brakes to turn around and Dowden, who said he was unable to see Felder's brake lights, slid into the rear of Felder's car doing about 35 mph.  Dowden admitted fault in the accident but attributed it to failure of the ABS brake system and the rainy weather.  Given that he was "responding under emergent circumstances to an armed robbery in inclement weather conditions where the dispatch had advised that the victim was in pursuit of the perpetrator," Dowden argued that the collision "should be more properly viewed as accidental in nature."

In an October 25, 2013 written decision, Ocean County Assignment Judge Vincent J. Grasso disagreed.  Grasso found credible Captain Paul Daly's testimony that the "officers were travelling approximately sixty (60) miles per hour in rainy weather conditions on wet road surfaces."  The court found sufficient evidence that Dowden did not proceed with proper caution and due regard for the safety of persons and property.  Grasso decision and other court filings are on-line here.

Dowden, represented by Stuart J. Alterman of Marlton, appealed Grasso's ruling after an unsuccessful attempt to have Grasso reconsider it.  In his appeal, he argues that there was insufficient evidence to warrant the suspension and that the suspension was improper because it was "restitutionary in nature."