Thursday, January 29, 2015

Lakewood agrees to withdraw disciplinary complaint against cop in exchange for cop's resignation. Cop's "drug use" will be reported to the State.

Robert Lawson,
Lakewood Chief of Police
In a December 17, 2014 "Confidential Agreement," the Township of Lakewood (Ocean County) agreed withdraw a Preliminary Notice of Disciplinary Action filed against a police officer on June 16, 2014 in exchange for that officer's resignation.  While the basis for the disciplinary charge is not specified, the agreement requires the Lakewood Police Department to "report [the officer's] resignation and drug use to the New Jersey Drug Registry."  This suggests that the officer's disciplinary charge was related to his possession or use of illegal drugs.

The agreement, which is on-line here, identifies the officer as Matthew Moore.  According to Lakewood, Moore was hired on August 15, 2005 and served until his June 20, 2014 resignation.  Moore agreed to "be permanently barred from holding any law enforcement position within the State of New Jersey," but Lakewood agreed to inform any future potential employers only of "Moore's date of employment, salary and position."

Assuming that Moore would have been criminally charged for his presumed drug offense, I submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for a copy of the criminal complaint against him.  The Labor Attorney, through the Township Clerk, responded that "there have been no criminal charges at any time against" Moore.

Moore is listed on Gannett's DataUniverse as "Matthew T. Moore" and is shown to have earned $107,776 in 2013.

Camden cop fired after being charged with peeing in jail cell while awaiting release on DWI charge.

In a report to the Camden County Prosecutor, the Camden Police Department stated that it had fired a police officer on February 17, 2014 because he was charged with drunk driving and criminal mischief in Evesham Township (Burlington County) on September 19, 2013.  The report, however, had the officer's name redacted from it.

I submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to Evesham and the results, on-line here, identified the fired officer as Travis Gerard Hoban, who was 23 at the time of the incident.  According to the reports, Hoban drove his silver Honda Civic off of Route 70 and struck several trees.  When Evesham Police Officer Jack Armstrong noticed a strong smell of alcohol on Hoban's breath, Hoban admitted to having "a couple of beers."  When Armstrong administered a breath test with an Alcotest 7110, Hoban blew a .19%.

At 3:45 a.m., about an hour and a half after taking the breath test, Hoban was observed on a video monitor walking over to the corner of his cell, opening his zipper and urinating on the bench and the floor.  This caused Armstrong to issue an additional charge against Hoban for criminal mischief.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Ocean County police dispatcher gets probation for hitting woman in head with log.

Update: The Judgment of Conviction (JOC) in my original post referenced a separate indictment numbered 13-06-1490.  The JOC made the probationary charges for both charges run concurrently.  I submitted another Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office (OCPO) to find out the nature of the charges that resulted in I-13-06-1490.  The OCPO's response is on-line here.  The new charge alleged that on February 8, 2013, O'Reilly, "in an attempt to keep [victim Shirley Mullen] from testifying in legal proceeding [called Mullen] and threaten[ed] her by stating that she will never make it to court."  Judge Blaney downgraded the original charge of Witness Tampering-Third Degree to Harassment, which is a disorderly persons offense, and sentenced O'Reilly to a two-year probationary period to run concurrently with the probationary sentence imposed for the assault charge.  He also ordered her to pay $125 in state assessments.

On June 13, 2014, Ocean County Superior Court Judge James M. Blaney sentenced a female Point Pleasant Borough (Ocean County) Police Communications Officer to two years probation for knocking another woman unconscious by hitting her in the head with a wood log.

The attack occurred on November 3, 2012 on Church Road in Point Pleasant.  The Communications Officer, Catherine R. O'Reilly of Brick, was 44 years of age at the time. The victim was identified in court filings as Shirley Mullen, also of Brick, who was 48 at the time.  Police reports and court filings are on-line here.

According to a report prepared by Point Pleasant Officer Jeffrey C. Johnson, Mullen told him that O'Reilly called her a "f***ing c**t" and then struck her in the head with a piece of wood.  According to a narrative report, Mullen was rendered unconscious and suffered a severe laceration.  She was transported to Shore Medical Center for treatment.

In addition to the term of probation, O'Reilly was also ordered to pay $125 in state assessments, reimburse the Victims of Crime Compensation Office $21,854.72 and surrender all her firearms.  O'Reilly was represented by Susan Schroeder-Clark of Clark & Clark in Freehold.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Court: Municipality may appoint volunteer fire company officers, except for fire chief.

On January 23, 2015, the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division issued a published opinion in the matter of Newfield Fire Company No. 1 v. Borough of Newfield.  The court's opinion, authored by Marie E. Lihotz, P.J.A.D., is on-line here.  Since it is a "published" opinion, it is binding precedent unless and until it is modified by the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Newfield Fire Company is a volunteer firefighting organization founded in 1908, which is prior to the chartering of Newfield Borough.  Like most volunteer fire companies, Newfield Fire Company is an independent New Jersey non-profit corporation that has enacted bylaws that provide for election of officers, filling of vacancies, removal of members, etc.  Newfield Fire Company's firehouse is in the Borough's municipal building and the Borough pays for building maintenance and utilities and purchases the fire engines and other equipment.  The Fire Company, however, generates its own money through fundraisers to pay its other expenses.

At issue is Newfield's Ordinance #2013-7 which transferred much of the Fire Company's autonomy to municipal control.  Among other things, the ordinance requires all Fire Company line officers, including the Chief, Deputy Chief, Assistant Chief, Captain, Lieutenants, and Fire Police Captain, to "be appointed by the Borough['s] Governing Body[,] as provided by law."  The Borough passed this ordinance under the authority of N.J.S.A. 40A:14-68, which allows a municipality to exercise "supervision and control" over a volunteer fire company.  That statute, in relevant part, states:
In any municipality not having a paid or part-paid fire department and force, the governing body, by ordinance, may contract with a volunteer fire company or companies in such municipality, for purposes of extinguishing fires, upon such terms and conditions as shall be deemed proper. The members of any such company shall be under the supervision and control of said municipality and in performing fire duty shall be deemed to be exercising a governmental function; however, the appointment or election of the chief of the volunteer fire company shall remain the prerogative of the membership of the fire company as set forth in the company's certificate of incorporation or bylaws.
The court rejected the Fire Company's argument that its relationship with the Borough must be established by a contract to which both parties agree.  Rather, the court held that the statute's use of the words "by ordinance" "unambiguously permit a municipality to use the mechanism of an ordinance as the contractual basis to set forth provisions assuring municipal supervision and control of members of the volunteer fire company it designates as the official entity to perform the public function of extinguishing fires."  In other words, a municipal governing body, without the fire company's consent, can decide the level of control the municipality will have over a volunteer fire company's operations.  The court did, however, uphold the lower court's finding that the Fire Company could select its own fire chief, since that power was specifically conferred by the statute to the Fire Company.

The court concluded that a volunteer fire company's choice is, essentially, to take it or leave it.  The court wrote that a prudent municipal council would develop an ordinance acceptable to the volunteer fire company, else the volunteers may simply decline to continue providing firefighting services.  But, if a municipality decides to pass an ordinance that is unacceptable to the fire company, the municipality "has authority to assume possession and control of its real and personal property and to seek a replacement entity to perform the necessary fire functions."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Stratford cop writes up fellow cop for drunk driving.

I often report of incidents where police officers give preferential treatment to fellow officers.  This is not one of those times.

From reading a Camden County Prosecutor's Office "Special Prosecutions Summary Report" on-line here, I learned that an unidentified Camden Metro Police Officer was suspended for 47 days for having a motor vehicle accident while allegedly driving intoxicated in Stratford Borough (Camden County) on October 26, 2013.  Harper pleaded guilty on January 10, 2014 and was assesses a total of $664 and had his license suspended for 90 days.  The court's disposition is on-line here.

On January 16, 2015, I submitted an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request to Stratford Borough and learned from documents provided that the police officer charged with drunk driving was Michael L. Harper, Jr.  (Since drunk driving cases are routinely reported to newspapers' "police blotter" section by local law enforcement (example here), I don't feel that it's inappropriate for me to publicly identify Officer Harper.)  

Harper was charged with drunk driving and careless driving by Stratford Police Officer Steven Schmidt.  Schmidt's investigation report is on-line here.  Compare Officer Schmidt's treatment of Harper to the Northfield (Atlantic County) Police Department's treatment Egg Harbor Township Officer Jeffrey Lancaster, as described on my blog here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Manchester appeals from court's reinstatement of fired police officer.

I have recently learned that the Township of Manchester (Ocean County), on or about May 20, 2014, appealed an Ocean County judge's February 21, 2014 decision to reinstate a Township police officer to his position after the Township fired him on June 29, 2012.  The judge also awarded the officer all back pay and, in a separate opinion issued on April 24, 2014, declined to require the Township to pay the officer's attorney fees.

The Township's Appellate Division Case Information Statement is on-line here and Judge Mark A. Troncone's February 21, 2014 and April 25, 2014 written decisions are on-line here and here respectively.  These records show that that Officer Ryan Saul was charged with twenty counts of discipline arising mainly from a September 22, 2010 domestic incident to which he and other officers responded.  After a six day hearing, Hearing Officer John J. Mercun, a lawyer with the Toms River law firm of Citta, Holzapfel & Zabarsky, was "clearly convinced by a preponderance of credible evidence presented that Saul demonstrated untruthfulness and dishonesty. . . among other things." Finding Saul's misconduct "so serious and egregious" Mercun recommended his dismissal.  The Township of Manchester, based on Mercun's recommendation, terminated Saul on June 29, 2012.

Judge Troncone, in his February 21, 2014 ruling, dismissed 19 of the 20 charges against Saul.  Troncone found that Mercun did not take into account significant variances between testimony offered at Saul's disciplinary hearing and earlier statements made by those same witnesses.  Troncone was also very critical of Manchester's psychological expert, Dr. Daniel Guller, who found that Saul was not fit for duty.  In his opinion, Troncone said that he was "troubled" by Guller's acceptance of a police official's "assessment of Officer Saul's honesty and credibility without ever conducting his own investigation of [the official's] allegations or even speaking to Officer Saul."  The only charge sustained against Saul was his failure to immediately a report a knee injury received during the September 22, 2010 domestic incident. Troncone ordered that Saul receive a written reprimand for that violation.

In his later ruling, Judge Troncone declined to order Manchester to pay for Saul's attorney fees for bringing the action that resulted in his reinstatement.  Since Saul was not cleared of all the charges brought against him, i.e. he was cleared only of nineteen of the twenty charges, Troncone ruled that he was not entitled to reimbursement of his attorney fees.

Cumberland Prosecutor appeals ruling in employee's discipline case.

On January 8, 2015, the Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office (CCPO) appealed a May 20, 2014 order by Judge Timothy G. Farrell holding that an administrative employee of the CCPO was entitled to a departmental hearing before being issued a written reprimand.

The matter involves CCPO employee Francine Hovermann who was disciplined for disclosing to co-workers that County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae purchased two vibrators at an upscale adult boutique in Philadelphia in January 2013.  Hovermann's lawsuit is on-line here. The CCPO's imposition of discipline against Hovermann is detailed in a November 14, 2013 South Jersey Times article on-line here.

According to the CCPO's appeal filing, on-line here, Hovermann did receive a departmental hearing after Farrell issued his May 20, 2014 Order. Farrell's order and reasons supporting it are on-line here.

The CCPO's lawyer, Theodore E. Baker of Bridgeton, did not disclose the results of the hearing in court filings.  A December 8, 2014 Daily Journal article, however, reported that Cumberland County Personnel Director Craig Atkinson upheld Hovermann‘s reprimand and that Hovermann filed a second suit appealing that ruling. 

After Farrell confirmed on December 1, 2014 that Hovermann's first lawsuit was complete at the trial level, the CCPO filed its appeal.  Hovermann is being represented by John P. Rowland of Little Egg Harbor.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Conflicting stories in Cafeteria Aide's lawsuit against Little Egg Harbor Elementary School Principal.

According to a December 13, 2012 Frog Pond Elementary School (Little Egg Harbor Township, Ocean County) incident report (on-line here), former school Cafeteria/Playground Aide Joette Montee walked into the school cafeteria loudly repeating that school Principal Troy Henderson "needs to keep his d*** in his pants" and that he does not know how to run a school or control children.  According to the report Montee, who was escorted off school grounds by officers while saying "I've had it with this f***ing place" was using profanity loudly enough for children to hear and was "making people in the cafeteria feel uncomfortable."

In contrast, Montee, in her October 26, 2013 lawsuit (on-line here), claims that she was wrongfully terminated by Henderson because she complained about special needs children, including her sister's children, being supervised by non-certified aides.  She claims that whenever her sister contacted the school to complain about how the sister's children were educated, Henderson would become very upset and order Montee to "stop talking to parents", specifically her sister, about what goes on at school.  She claims that she was fired "for making a comment of a personal and private nature to a third party in a conversation that [she] reasonably believed to be confidential in nature."

Montee's lawsuit, which bears Docket No. OCN-L-3835-13, remains active and is scheduled for a case management conference on February 13, 2015, 11 a.m. before the Hon. Arnold B. Goldman.

Montee is represented by Benjamin B. Brenner of the Carroll Law Firm in Galloway while the school board and Henderson have Garrick R. Slavick of Berry Sahradnik Kotzas & Benson of Toms River as their lawyer.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Berkeley Heights quietly fired police officer.

In October 2013, the Township of Berkeley Heights (Union County) entered into a settlement agreement with one of its police officers and the local PBA.  The agreement called for the officer's employment to be terminated effective September 27, 2013 with the officer agreeing to seek nothing further from the Township beyond $24,247.14 in accrued wages, overtime and vacation time.  Interestingly, the agreement specifically requires that the officer's "positive drug test results" be sent to New Jersey's Central Drug Registry.

The terminated officer is Nicholas A. Franks and the settlement agreement is on-line here.  Franks was suspended without pay effective May 13, 2013 for unspecified disciplinary charges.  The agreement reserves Nicholas Franks' right to apply for unemployment benefits, to seek withdraw of his pension contributions and to apply for a disability pension.

I received the settlement agreement yesterday in response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request I made after receiving an anonymous tip that Franks had been fired.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Millstone Township defending against three whistleblower lawsuits

Trials for three "whistleblower" lawsuits filed by Department of Public Works employees against Millstone Township (Monmouth County) have been scheduled for March 2015.  The complaints, on-line here, were filed in 2010 and 2011 by former DPW employees Ronald Anderson, Mark Philpot and George Schwarz.  The three, who are all represented by Morganville attorney Stephen T. Mashel, allege that things went bad at the DPW after Jeffrey Hawk and Jack Guyette were hired.  Hawk allegedly boasted that he was then Mayor (now municipal council member) Nancy A. Grbelja's "boy" with whom he had a "close personal relationship."

According to the complaints, Hawk, Guyette and a third employee, Ryan Elsbree, were shown "favoritism" such as being exempt from routine random drug testing.  The complaints allege that Hawk would fail to appear at assignments without telling anyone and smoked marijuana on the job.  Hawk also allegedly did personal chores for Grbelja during work hours and while using Township vehicles.

The three plaintiffs claim that their complaints to Township officials were not taken seriously and that retaliatory action was taken against them.