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.