Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Burlington judge affirms bridge cop's firing.

In a May 8, 2017 order, Burlington County Superior Court Judge Janet Z. Smith affirmed the Burlington County Bridge Commission's September 13, 2016 decision to terminate one of its police officers for failing to pass a random urinalysis.

According to a September 1, 2016 report written by Hearing Officer James D. Fattorini, Officer Garry S. Church, Jr. (also referred to as Gary S. Church, Jr.) was served with departmental charges on April 21, 2016 because he tested positive for amphetamines as a result of an April 12, 2016 random drug screen.  Fattorini, who also serves as Burlington County Bridge Commission's vice-chairman, found that 6,870 ng/ml of amphetamines were found in Church's urine which was well above cut off level of 500 ng/ml.  Fattorini's report is one of several exhibits attached to Church's civil complaint.

Four days after having been advised of the presence of amphetamines in his urine, Church reportedly told Bridge Commission officials that he had taken some of his father's medicine when he had a sore throat.  During an administrative hearing, Church said that he thought that his father's medicine bottle contained Amoxicillin, an antibiotic, so he took two pills a day from the bottle for five days during April 2016.  According to Fattorini's report, the medicine bottle that that Church offered as evidence during his hearing "was a bottle of Adderall prescribed to his father."  Adderall is an amphetamine. Church reportedly testified that he never read the labels on the bottle and conceded that the label also instructed him that "Federal Law prohibits the transfer of this drug to any other person than the patient for whom it was prescribed."

According to a July 8, 2016 letter from the Commission's Human Resources Director, Church submitted a hair follicle test result to the Commission in early June 2016.  Church apparently believed that the test would prove his innocence. But, the Commission "determined that the hair follicle test did not establish a defense to the violation in this matter, nor did it absolve [Church] of liability."  Yet, Fattorini's report stated: "On May 19, 2016, Officer Church submitted to a hair follicle test which resulted in a negative testing for amphetamines."

In his report, Fattorini wrote: "I [] find that based upon Officer Church's actions and inactions in blindly consuming ten (10) pills, his inaction in not responding with his explanation for a period of four days, his inaction in not getting a hair follicle test for a period of one month, and his action of taking not one, but ten pills admittedly not belonging to him in clear violation of the State statute and according to the bottle, a Violation of Federal law, all lead to the determination that termination is the appropriate disciplinary sanction."

In her May 8, 2017 Order, Judge Smith wrote that she had heard testimony from both Church and his father at an April 12, 2017 hearing.  Based on reasons she orally placed on the record during that hearing, she affirmed Church's termination.