NJ Police Officer discipline

A recent opinion rendered by the Appellate Division has important implications for all law enforcement officers, and all public employees for that matter, who are considering applying for disability retirement while simultaneously fighting disciplinary charges.  The case, Cardinale v. Board of Trustees, Police and Firemen’s Retirement System, A-1997-17T1, involved a police officer who was

supreme-court-sealThe U.S. Supreme Court sided with former Paterson police officer Jeffrey J. Heffernan and ruled that his First Amendment rights were violated when he was demoted after picking up a campaign sign for the mayor’s opponent.  Heffernan had been demoted after supporters of Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres saw him picking up a campaign sign for

police car

As reported by the Brick Patch online, the shooting of a 21-year-old Brick Township man in August 2015 during a confrontation with police has been ruled a justifiable use of deadly force, Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato announced Thursday.

In a statement released Thursday morning, Coronato said the investigation into the Aug. 23 shooting

Given the unrest that has erupted throughout our country in response to two Grand Jury decisions that failed to return True Bill’s of Indictment, we came across this letter from PBA President Patrick Colligan that offers an opinion from the perspective of a law enforcement officer.  Given our audience is New Jersey Public Safety Officers,

This blog entry will focus upon our review of certain statutory proposals currently pending in the New Jersey Legislature concerning the pay status of law enforcement officers when appeals of termination are not resolved within 180 days. These proposals are set forth in Assembly Bill Number 3481

Assembly Bill 3481 concerns the suspensions of certain law enforcement officers and firefighters and supplements Title 40A of the New Jersey statutes and specifically amends N.J.S.A. 40A:14-150 and N.J.S.A. 40A:14-22. In essence, the bill allows certain law enforcement officers and firefighters to regain pay status when appeals of termination are not resolved within 180 days.

The first part of the bill provides:

When a law enforcement officer employed by a law enforcement agency…that is subject to the provisions of Title 11A of the New Jersey Statutes is suspended from performing his official duties without pay for a complaint or charges, other than (1) a complaint or charges relating to the subject matter of a pending criminal investigation…whether pre-indictment or post indictment, or (2) when the complaint or charges allege conduct that also would constitute a violation of the criminal laws of this State or any other jurisdiction, and the law enforcement agency employing the officer…seeks to terminate that officer’s…employment for the conduct that was the basis for the officer’s…suspension without pay, a final determination on the officer’s…suspension and termination shall be rendered within 180 calendar days from the date the officer…is suspended without pay.


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In In the Matter of Thomas F. Fricano, Borough of Freehold, Docket No.: A-2280-07T3, the Appellate Division addressed Appellant Thomas Fricano’s appeal from final decisions of the Merit System Board (“Board”), dated September 27, 2007 and December 7, 2007, upholding his resignation in good standing from the Borough of Freehold Police Department.

By way of background, Fricano received a regular appointment as a police officer in Freehold on April 3, 2006. The appointment was subject to the successful completion of a one-year probationary working test period, commencing after completion of a police training course. On February 2, 2007, Fricano, in a written letter, resigned to pursue other opportunities in law enforcement. The appointing authority accepted the resignation, which was made effective February 22, 2007. 

The circumstances surrounding Fricano’s resignation are in dispute and at the core of the appeal. According to Fricano, on February 2, 2007, after having served ten months of his one-year probationary working term, he was summoned to the office of the Police Chief. Allegedly, the Chief ordered Fricano “to resign or be terminated immediately.” Denied his request for legal representation or to have a PBA representative present, Fricano drafted and submitted a letter of resignation under duress and coercion. Thereafter, on February 16, 2007, Fricano’s counsel wrote to the Chief requesting that he be able to rescind the resignation. The Borough attorney advised Fricano that he would not be reinstated, instead stating that “they could have fired him instead.” Subsequently, on March 13, 2007, Fricano was issued a preliminary notice of disciplinary action, charging him with numerous violations. On March 22, 2007, the appointing authority withdrew the charges and, thereafter, on March 28, 2007, issued Fricano a letter indicating that he did not satisfactorily complete his working test period and that he was being terminated effective April 3, 2007.

The Borough offers a different version. When called to his office, the Chief advised Fricano that his performance during the working test period had not been satisfactory, and, therefore, offered him the option to resign effective February 22 or face termination for failure to satisfactorily complete his working test period. This offer was made so that Fricano could avoid any stigma which might attach to an involuntary termination. Fricano decided to resign and submitted a resignation letter the same day. In the letter, Fricano explain that he resigned to pursue “a different choice in the Law Enforcement Career.” Although he did not work after February 2, he was paid through February 22, and his resignation was recorded effective February 22, 2007. After being subsequently informed of Fricano’s intention to challenge his resignation, the police department issued the preliminary notice of disciplinary action on March 13, 2007. On March 22, 2007, the police department withdrew the charges and, instead, as a cautionary measure, issued a letter to


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In Division of State Police v. In the Matter of Detective Sergeant First Class Daniel Flaherty, Docket No. A-0257-07T20257-07T2, the Appellate Division addressed the validity and ultimate imposition of disciplinary charges lodged against a Detective Sergeant of the New Jersey State Police. The appeal arose out of disciplinary charges filed by the New Jersey Division of State Police (“Division”) against Detective Sergeant First Class Daniel Flaherty, charging him with: (1) disseminating Division documents without proper authorization; (2) behaving in an official capacity to the personal discredit of a member of the State Police or to the Division; and (3) willfully disobeying a lawful verbal or written order.

The underlying facts of this case were not substantially in dispute. In 2001, Flaherty filed an age discrimination complaint with the New Jersey State Police Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action (“EEO/AA”) intake unit. He alleged that since 1995, the State Police had denied him numerous specialist positions because of his age. The EEO/AA assigned Lieutenant Patrick Reilly to investigate his claim. After two years, in which the allegations still had not been resolved, the EEO/AA replaced Reilly with DSFC Kevin Rowe.

On May 5, 2003, Flaherty filed a New Jersey State Police Reportable Incident Form alleging “culpable inefficiency” against Reilly. Pursuant to a Division policy regarding non-disclosure of confidential internal investigations, the Office of Professional Standards (“OPS”) denied his request to access the file regarding his complaint against Reilly.

The following month, the State Police administratively closed Flaherty’s complaint file against Reilly and transferred the matter to the Attorney General’s EEO/AA section. In a letter dated September 24, 2003, a Senior Deputy Attorney General informed Flaherty that his claim against Reilly could not be substantiated. 

Thereafter, on May 31, 2003, the Division assigned Flaherty to the OPS, which was then called the State Police Internal Affairs Investigation Bureau. Pursuant to Division of Internal Affairs policies and procedures, “[t]he nature and source of internal allegations, the progress of internal affairs investigations, and the resulting materials are confidential information. The contents of internal investigation case files shall be retained in the internal affairs unit and clearly marked as confidential.” Notwithstanding these provisions, internal investigation files can be released in certain enumerated circumstances.  As such, Flaherty executed a confidentiality agreement which provided the dissemination of all confidential information and/or documents.

In a letter dated February 20, 2004, the Department of Law and Public Safety found that Flaherty’s age discrimination claims could not be substantiated. In his appeal to the Department of Personnel, Flaherty questioned the manner in which the State Police and the Attorney General’s office investigated his


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In the matter of O’Rourke v. City of Lambertville, Docket No. A-0481-07T3, the Defendants appeal the trial court’s decision: (1) reversing the Lambertville City Council’s decision removing Plaintiff, Michael O’Rourke, from his position as a police officer; (2) reinstating Plaintiff to his position; and (3) denying their motion for reconsideration. Defendant, Bruce Cocuzza, is the city’s civilian police director. Plaintiff, a sergeant first class, was the police department’s Terminal Agency Coordinator (“TAC”) for the National Crime Information Center (“NCIC”) system, which contains a wide array of law enforcement information. 

The city charged Plaintiff with conducting unauthorized and improper employee background investigations, in defiance of Cocuzza’s direct order, and engaging in conduct subversive to the good order and discipline of the department in doing so. At the disciplinary hearing, Cocuzza testified that he and Plaintiff were discussing the temporary transfer of an employee from city hall to the department when Plaintiff told him that the employee would have to submit to a background check or be fingerprinted for security purposes. Cocuzza said he told Plaintiff that no action should be taken until Cocuzza received written authorization from “somebody in authority” and spoke with the city attorney regarding same. Later, Cocuzza learned Plaintiff had performed background investigations of five civilian employees of the department, including Cocuzza, without authorization.

After the officer assigned who was assigned to the department’s internal affairs unit declined to investigate because of his long-term social relationship with Plaintiff, Cocuzza decided to conduct the investigation himself. In his report, Cocuzza wrote that Plaintiff had been insubordinate and that his actions constituted a serious breach of discipline and a flagrant abuse of authority. 

Plaintiff testified that he performed the checks under his authority as TAC officer, indicating that under the State’s security policy anyone with access to the NCIC system had to have a background check and fingerprints taken. He also stated that he understood Cocuzza to mean that he should not ask anyone for their fingerprints, which he did not do. He did concede that he did criminal checks on five employees, including Cocuzza.


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