On March 30, 2009, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division decided the case In the Matter of Richard J. Rivera, Docket No. A-3672-07T2. In the case, Richard J. Rivera, a county corrections officer assigned to the Monmouth County Correctional Institute (“MCCI”), appealed from a final decision of the Merit System Board suspending him for ten (10) days without pay for violating Rule 4.1.28 of the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Department.
The alleged violation was based upon Rivera’s failure to disclose a relationship with a “current offender,” which includes probationers, after he purchased a home with a woman who was on probation. On appeal, Rivera contended the rule was unconstitutionally vague, both on its face and as applied to him. The Court, in rejecting Rivera’s arguments, noted that a serious conflict of interest could arise if a corrections officer maintained a close relationship with a probationer who violated his/her probation and ultimately became incarcerated. To support this, the Court cited Bowden v. Bayside State Prison, a 1993 Appellate Division case, which held, “[t]he need for proper control over the conduct of inmates in a correctional facility and the part played by proper relationships between those who are required to maintain order and enforce discipline and the inmates cannot be doubted.” Consequently, the Court affirmed the Board’s final decision and upheld the penalty imposed.
This case illustrates that correction officers who become socially and/or intimately associated with persons who are either incarcerated or on parole could be subject to discipline. As a result, all correction officers should consult their respective collective bargaining agreements and/or department policies to determine whether their particular employer places limits on fraternization with certain persons.