Sunday, May 15, 2016

Judge: Medford police officer not entitled to automatic sergeant re-promotion.

On April 29, 2016, a Burlington County Judge rejected a Medford Township police officer's bid to be re-promoted to sergeant--a rank that he previously held but relinquished in 2012 due to the Township's decision to economize by decreasing the number of police officers and their ranks.  On May 17, 2016, however, the officer appealed the judge's decision.

In his July 2015 lawsuit, former Sergeant Troy Chenier argued that since he accepted the demotion to accommodate the Township economy goals, a state statute required his automatic re-promotion when a sergeant's position opened up.  He claimed that he was entitled to the re-promotion even though he was further demoted for disciplinary reasons after he accepted the demotion from sergeant to corporal.

Chenier and his attorney, F. Michael Daily, Jr. of Westmont, based their claim on N.J.S.A. 40A:14-143 which states:
The governing body of any municipality, if they shall deem it necessary for reasons of economy, may decrease the number of members and officers of the police department or force or their grades or ranks. In case of demotion from the higher ranks, the officers or members to be so demoted shall be in the inverse order of their appointment. When the service of members or officers is terminated, such termination shall be in the inverse order of their appointment. Any member or officer who is demoted or whose service is terminated by reason of such decrease shall be placed on a special employment list, and in the case of subsequent promotions, a person so demoted shall be reinstated to his original rank and in the case of termination of service and new appointment, prior consideration shall be given to the persons on said special employment list.
But, Township officials argued that Chenier's post-demotion conduct, including a 2013 incident at Tri-County Swim Meet justified the Township's decision to not automatically re-promote him.  According to the court's ruling, Chenier allegedly "yelled and cursed at the Swim Club's Treasurer, screamed at the event's co-chair, berated an elderly couple, acted threateningly towards a female volunteer who asked him for directions, and 'simulated (with his hands and mouth) pulling a pin from a hand grenade and throwing it at the swim club,'" He also allegedly "asked for the names of the members of the public who reported him so he could issue them motor vehicle summons for violations he observed while working the swim meet detail."

In a 24-page written decision, Burlington County Assignment Judge Ronald E. Bookbinder rejected Chenier's claim ruling that N.J.S.A. 40A:14-143 must be read "sensibly, rather than literally."  Judge Bookbinder wrote that N.J.S.A. 40:14-129, which required that "that 'merit' be given 'due consideration' with respect to the promotion of any police officer to a superior rank," demonstrated that the Legislature did not intend to require local governments to automatically re-promote officers regardless of their disciplinary records.

In his April 29, 2016 Order, Judge Bookbinder dismissed Chenier's complaint because "there exist no further legal or factual issues to be determined by this court."

Chenier's appeal will probably be decided between a year and eighteen months from its filing.