On May 18, 2010, the Appellate Division decided In the Matter of Linda Reid, Riverfront State Prison, Docket No.: A-3145-08T2. In the case, Linda Reid appealed from the final determination of the Civil Service Commission sustaining the charges of: (1) conduct unbecoming a public employee; and (2) filing a false report; and the sanction of removal from her position as a Senior Corrections Officer at Riverfront State Prison.
Reid began working as a corrections officer at Riverfront State Prison on July 26, 2002. As a result of an incident occurring on August 6, 2005, she was charged with assaulting an inmate and filing a false report in which she represented she had been the victim. The charges were sustained at a departmental hearing and on April 25, 2007, she was removed from employment. Following an appeal, the contested case was transmitted to the Office of Administrative Law, wherein a hearing was conducted on April 30, 2008.
Testimony and evidence were presented by Captain Tommy Stahl regarding the internal affairs investigation, which concluded that Reid had assaulted an inmate and misrepresented that she was the victim; Officers Cherril Davis and Dyshella Kee who were eyewitnesses to the incident and reported that the inmate used profanity towards Reid but did not strike her, and that Reid beat the inmate and falsely claimed he assaulted her; and nurse Evelyn Mamuyac who observed only a slight swelling on Reid’s right cheek and lower lip. Reid testified on her own behalf stating that the inmate used profanities indicating he had to use the restroom after which an argument ensued and the inmate pushed her and hit her in the face, causing swelling to the right side of her face and lip and resulting in a scar under her right eye. She further testified to her exemplary performance assessment review from June 15, 2004 through June 15, 2005.
On November 14, 2008, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued an initial decision, making express credibility assessments and finding Reid engaged in the charged conduct. Based on several inconsistencies in Reid’s testimony, the ALJ discredited her version of the events as self-serving. In determining the appropriate sanction, the ALJ considered Reid’s status as a Senior Corrections Officer, which “subjects her to a higher standard of conduct and responsibility than is required of other public employees.” Consequently, the ALJ found this conduct so egregious as to warrant removal despite the absence of a disciplinary history. On January 16, 2009, the Commission issued a final determination adopting the ALJ’s initial decision as to the charges and the sanction of removal. This appeal ensued.
On appeal, Reid challenged the agency’s determination on the charges as not based on sufficient credible evidence in the record. She further contended the penalty of removal is not reflective of progressive discipline and, as such, the sanction should be reduced.
The Appellate Division, given its limited standard of review and the deference afforded an administrative agency, concluded Reid’s arguments were without merit. Specifically, the Court found that the ALJ clearly articulated her reasons for finding the testimony of the other witnesses as credible and disbelieving Reid’s testimony. Therefore, the Court determined that the Commission’s decision to sustain the charges was supported by substantial credible evidence in the record and was neither arbitrary, capricious not unreasonable.
Moreover, the Court affirmed the decision to remove Reid from employment. The Court found Reid’s conduct was both violent and dishonest and, therefore, removal was warranted considering that the Department of Corrections and her colleagues could no longer trust her to tell the truth or behave appropriately as a corrections officer.