HILLSIDE, NJ — Angela Garretson, who was mayor of Hillside and has since been sworn in as a Union County freeholder, was not issued a summons for driving with an expired license when she rear-ended another car last month, police records show.
An Elizabeth police officer responded to the scene of the minor accident at 582 Morris Ave. in Elizabeth on Dec. 4. Police body camera footage obtained by LocalSource through an open public records request does not show the entire interaction between Garretson and the police.
According to the police report of the incident, Garretson’s license expired in October 2017. LocalSource requested any summonses issued to her related to the December incident, but none exist, Elizabeth City Clerk Joanna Ramirez said.
Elizabeth Police Chief John Brennan did not respond to multiple phone messages left with a secretary asking why Garretson was not issued a summons for her expired license. And police Director James Cosgrove did not respond to an email asking if the incident would be investigated.
Court records also show that Garretson, 41, has been issued summonses for 24 traffic violations since 2005. Garretson declined to comment when reached by phone Jan. 5, but her lawyer stated that her license was expired, but not suspended, at the time of the Dec. 4 accident.
“The renewal paperwork came during a hectic election period,” her lawyer, Robert DeGroot, said in a Jan. 5 statement. “Ms. Garretson did not realize that her license had expired in the end of October until she looked immediately after the minor accident. She renewed her license the next day.”
DeGroot also said that driving with an expired license is a minor traffic offense and no points would have been added to her license, even if she had been issued a ticket for it.
After serving as Hillside mayor for the past four years, Garretson was elected to the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders on Nov. 7, about one month before the car accident in Elizabeth. She was sworn in on Jan. 7.
In November, a Superior Court judge overturned three traffic violations, which Garretson had been found guilty of in municipal court.
Those traffic tickets were issued to her in Hillside by the town’s former police union president, Matthew Casterline, in what her lawyers argued was retribution for demoting then-police Chief Louis Panarese and promoting Vincent Ricciardi to top cop.
The dispute over who should hold hold the position of police chief in Hillside has resulted in lawsuits and a leak of internal documents showing Ricciardi’s disciplinary past.
Five of Garretson’s 24 summonses were a result of the 2016 incident in Hillside. She was cleared of three of those and two were dismissed by judges. She pleaded guilty to the other 18 traffic violations, court records show. A separate ticket from 2009 issued in Newark was also dismissed, court records show.
Many of the summonses were for parking meter violations, delaying traffic or failure to wear a seat belt, and were issued in different parts of New Jersey, including Union, Newark, Montclair, Hoboken and New Brunswick.
She was issued a summons for driving without an inspection card in 2009 and for driving or parking an unregistered motor vehicle in 2012.
A warrant was issued for Garretson in 2012 over a ticket she received for using a cellphone while driving, but it was recalled four days later after she pleaded guilty and paid a $133 fine, court records show.
LocalSource requested police body camera footage of incident in Elizabeth on Dec. 4. First, officials sent a four-minute video that cut off shortly after Garretson handed the officer her license, registration and insurance. The person who was rear-ended by Garretson told the officer that Garretson was the mayor.
After requests to the city clerk and the police director for the entire interaction between the officer and Garretson, LocalSource was sent on Jan. 8 an additional two-minute video, which shows the officer handing Garretson her information back without. The officer did not mention anything about the expired license, although he noted the expiration date in his police report.
In the video, Garretson then tells the officer, “I’m going to tell you a little something … It’s not a big deal, but I’m just going to let you know, but … ” The video ends seconds later.
LocalSource filed a denial of access complaint with the Government Records Council in Trenton on Jan. 8 to obtain the entire footage of the interaction between Garretson and the Elizabeth police officer.