HILLSIDE, NJ — Internal documents provided to LocalSource show a nearly 16-year-old incident that led to a 60-day suspension for the Hillside Police Chief Vincent Ricciardi in 2002, a disclosure that comes as two others are suing the town in connection with the position.
The documents included the disciplinary action imposed on Ricciardi in connection to him punching a minor who was being restrained by four other officers. Ricciardi was appointed to the position of police chief by Mayor Angela Garretson earlier this year.
The documents, which include internal memos and disciplinary reports, were presented by Hillside resident Christopher Maia to the Hillside Township Council members during a meeting Sept. 26. The council members refused to take possession of the documents from Maia during the meeting.
At least two other police chief hopefuls have filed lawsuits claiming they were wrongfully denied the top commanding officer position.
Capt. Nicola Lomonte sued in July, alleging he was passed up for chief out of retaliation from the mayor. And Louis Panarese, who recently retired, originally sued to keep the position and is now seeking damages after being demoted by the mayor this year.
“Mayor Garretson just completely overlooked that horrible disciplinary history and promoted (Ricciardi)” to chief,” Christopher Gray, a lawyer for both Lomonte and Panarese, said in a phone interview.
Garretson did not respond when asked Oct. 5 if she was aware of Ricciardi’s disciplinary past when she bumped him up into the position, held by Panarese at that time.
Hillside business administrator Ray Hamlin declined to comment when asked if or when Ricciardi’s probationary period ends or ended, citing pending litigation.
The alleged theft of the documents is currently under investigation by the state Division of Criminal Justice, Ricciardi told LocalSource.
“Further, the stolen documents you’re referring to are the subject of an ongoing investigation,” Ricciardi said in an Oct. 6 email.
Ricciardi declined to comment on any pending litigation or personnel matters, saying it was “inappropriate” to discuss it with reporters.
Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for the state Attorney General’s Office, which oversees the Division of Criminal Justice, declined to comment when asked if the office was currently investigating any matter involving the Hillside Police Department.
“Our policy is that we neither confirm nor deny investigations,” Aseltine said in an Oct. 3 email.
In the Sept. 26 council meeting when Maia presented the documents, he stated in reference to Ricciardi, “Why a man with this kind of history would be promoted from lieutenant to chief is beyond my comprehension.”
Maia, a Hillside resident for about 17 years, provided LocalSource with the documents and said they had been left on his porch Sept. 23 by an unknown person. But he added that they may have been given to him since he has been an outspoken critic of Garretson’s administration.
The documents show that Ricciardi was suspended for 60 days without pay after striking a restrained teenager in the face in 2001.
The notice of Ricciardi’s suspension was verified by Matthew Ross, a ranking police officer who signed the document.
“It was a school fight and the kid was being surrounded by many officers … and he was already restrained,” Ross said of the incident during an Oct. 3 phone interview. “So yes, it was excessive.”
According to the memo,Ricciardi was responding to reports of several fights breaking out near the Hillside high school on Dec. 6, 2001.
Alim Armour, a juvenile at that time, was attempting to interfere in Ricciardi’s arrest of another person, according to another officer. Armour was being restrained by Ricciardi’s partner when Ricciardi reportedly grabbed Armour by the head, according to the documents. Armour then began striking Ricciardi in the face and four other officers restrained Armour; then Ricciardi, who was standing about 7 feet away, lunged and struck Armour in the face. One officer pushed Ricciardi away and told him to “back off.” Armour was arrested at the scene.
Armour, who attended a council meeting in August and brought up the altercation to council members, was told he could no longer bring a legal complaint against Ricciardi since the statute of limitations had already passed.
The Hillside Police Department took of a vote of confidence to show support for Panarese in May.
Lt. Matthew Cove, president of the Hillside Fraternal Order of Police, said supervising officers are trying not to become distracted by the controversies within the department.
“As supervisors, we’re trying our best that any distractions doesn’t erode the morale of the men or women of the police department” Cove said Oct. 12. “We’re just trying to focus on our responsibility to serve and protect the residents of the township of Hillside.”