Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Belleville: Two shoplifting investigations, one past and one current, involving police officers.

Update May 11, 2017: In March 2017, the Township of Belleville and former police officer Wanda Posada-Vallese entered into a confidential settlement agreement that resolved administrative charges "arising out of incident on or about December 31, 2015" as well as "a prior matter concerning a lottery ticket at a drug store."  Belleville agreed to pay Posada-Vallese for twenty accrued vacation days and dismiss all administrative charges against her.  Posada-Vallese agreed to retire and to dismiss an action that she had filed against the Township with the Civil Service Commission.  Under the agreement, Posada-Vallese retained her right to pursue three pending Worker Compensation claims against the Township and the Township agreed not to oppose her application to the New Jersey Division of Pensions and Benefits for retirement and health benefits.  Notably, Posada-Vallese agreed to "enter her plea to a Disorderly Persons Complaint on or about March 23, 2017."  An OPRA request has been made for the complaint underlying this plea and this article will be updated upon receipt.  Also, see an April 29, 2017 newspaper articleUpdate May 22, 2017: See information on summons and complaint here.
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At about 2:20 p.m. on December 31, 2015, the owner of a Belleville (Essex County) liquor store told Belleville Patrolman Jerry Aquino that a woman who said that she was a Belleville police officer stole a $50 bottle of tequila.  According to an incident report, the owner had called police when he realized that a bottle of Don Julio Anejo tequila was missing and after a check of surveillance video showed the woman paying for one bottle of tequila with her credit card while slipping another bottle in her purse.  Aquino notified two sergeants who responded to the scene.

Even though police have the video recording and a copy of the woman's credit card receipt, no criminal charges have yet been filed.  According to an October 19, 2016 memo, "the case has been turned over to Essex County Prosecutor's Office [and] a complaint is pending a decision by that office."

Authorities have not released the name of the alleged shoplifter nor have they confirmed whether or not she is a Belleville police officer.  But, the fact that two police sergeants were dispatched to a $50 shoplifting incident together with the absence of a criminal complaint ten months later suggest that this was not a run of the mill shoplifting investigation.

This would not the first time that a female Belleville officer has been accused of shoplifting.  On June 6, 2006, Officer Wanda Posada-Vallese, who was then known as Wanda Scheumeister (and later as Wanda Posada), was charged in State v. Wanda Scheumeister, Summons No. S-2006-000030 with shoplifting about $60 worth of mosquito repellent and lawn edging from a local K-Mart store where she was working while wearing her uniform.  According to the complaint, Posada-Vallese pleaded guilty on September 21, 2006 to an amended charge of loitering and paid $533 in fines and costs.

The police had a pretty strong case against Posada-Vallese including statements by a K-Mart clerk who said that Posada-Vallese had tricked her into leaving her post while she secreted the items into a bag, a security officer who said that he observed Posada-Vallese run the items over a sensor pad to prevent the alarm sensors from activating and a security manager who said that Posada-Vallese lied by telling him that she had placed $60 for the items on the service counter when the video recording showed that she had not.  The clerk recalled that she had seen Posada-Vallese pay for one baby gate but leave the store with two and pay for one Christmas wreath but leave with two.

On October 26, 2006, Posada-Vallese filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in which she complained that that she was "wrongfully accused of shoplifting" and that she remained suspended even though the charges resulted in a loitering conviction.  She said that male officers were not punished as severely even though they "have had similar or greater charges brought against them."  She also claimed that Belleville officials discriminated against her because she was female and Hispanic.

In its November 30, 2006 response to the EEOC, Belleville defended its immediate suspension of Posada-Vallese and denied that her gender or national origin had any bearing on its decision.  It also enclosed a copy of Police Chief Joseph P. Rotonda's September 11, 2006 letter to the New Jersey Department of Personnel that also defended the imposition of an immediate suspension.

The EEOC complaint was settled on March 30, 2007 with Posada-Vallese agreeing to accept an unpaid suspension from June 7, 2006 to October 8, 2006 and being reassigned to the Patrol Division where she would serve a probationary period of six months.  The Township agreed to pay Posada-Vallese back pay from October 8, 2006 to March 8, 2007.  A March 9, 2007 settlement of the disciplinary charges clarified that Posada-Vallese would use 22.5 days of accrued personal and vacation days toward the period for which she was receiving back pay and that she would not lose any seniority rights due to the incident.

According to an October 18, 2016 memo, Posada-Vallese has over seventeen years on the police force and is presently making $94,945 per year.