UNION COUNTY, NJ — The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office recently released its “major discipline” report for 2021, a review of instances in which law enforcement officers faced major discipline. There were 389 officers on this year’s list, including nine from Union County law enforcement agencies. Major discipline is defined as terminations, reductions in rank or suspensions of more than five days.
This is the second year New Jersey’s more than 500 law enforcement agencies have had to publicly report this data, as per a directive the Attorney General’s Office issued June 15, 2020.
“For decades, New Jersey has treated a police department’s internal disciplinary files — generally known as ‘internal affairs’ records — as highly confidential, in line with the way that personnel records for all public employees are usually treated. This directive establishes an important and necessary exception to that practice for serious cases of law enforcement officer discipline,” former Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal wrote in the directive.
Grewal acknowledged some of the reasons that internal affairs records were not publicly shared prior, such as protecting those who file complaints or witness misconduct, and because a number of misconduct complaints against law enforcement officers are ultimately determined to be unsubstantiated or unfounded.
“More is required to promote trust, transparency and accountability, and I have concluded that it is in the public’s interest to reveal the identities of New Jersey law enforcement officers sanctioned for serious disciplinary violations,” Grewal wrote in the directive. “Our state’s law enforcement agencies cannot carry out their important public safety responsibilities without the confidence of the people they serve. The public’s trust depends on maintaining confidence that police officers serve their communities with dignity and respect. In the uncommon instance when officers fall well short of those expectations, the public has a right to know that an infraction occurred, and that the underlying issue was corrected before that officer potentially returned to duty.
“It is time to end the practice of protecting the few to the detriment of the many. The vast majority of law enforcement officers in New Jersey serve with honor and astonishing courage under extremely difficult circumstances. Most go through their entire careers without engaging in conduct that warrants a major disciplinary action against them. But their good work is easily undermined — and quickly forgotten — whenever an officer breaches the public’s trust and dishonors the entire profession,” he continued. “The likelihood of such misbehavior increases when officers believe they can act with impunity; it decreases when officers know that their misconduct will be subject to public scrutiny and not protected. The deterrent effect of this scrutiny will, in the end, improve the culture of accountability among New Jersey law enforcement.”
According to the report, the following Union County law enforcement agencies did not have any major discipline in 2021: the police departments in Berkeley Heights, Clark, Cranford, Garwood, Hillside, Kenilworth, Linden, Plainfield, Roselle Park, Scotch Plains, Springfield, Summit, Union, Westfield and Winfield; Union County Prosecutor’s Office; and Union County Sheriff’s Office.
“Agencies report officers serving major discipline only once the discipline is final,” the report stated. “The road to a determination of final discipline may include many appeals. Thus, officers suspended in 2021 for whom the discipline determination is not final will not appear (in this report). Submissions indicating discipline is still ‘pending’ were removed and do not appear in this report. Similarly, officers with discipline initiated in a prior year, but finalized in 2021, will appear in this report.”
The following names, disciplinary actions and reasons for discipline come from the 2021 major discipline report, which compiled its information from reports made by each agency.
From the Elizabeth Police Department, one officer received major discipline. Officer Lamar Boone was suspended for nine days for multiple body-worn camera policy violations and improper handling of a domestic violence incident.
From the Fanwood Police Department, one officer received major discipline. Officer Christopher Eckerson was terminated for refusing to submit to a breath test and for being found guilty of reckless driving.
From the Kean University Police Department, one officer received major discipline. Officer Eric Card was suspended for 57 days for a body-worn camera policy violation.
From the Mountainside Police Department, one officer received major discipline. Sgt. Richard Latargia was suspended for six days for failing to follow proper arrest procedures and failing to maintain control of an arrested individual.
From the New Providence Police Department, one officer received major discipline. Cpl. Michael Hand was terminated for conduct unbecoming of a police officer for interfering with a witness in connection with a local disciplinary hearing.
From the Rahway Police Department, two officers received major discipline. Officer Amber Fontanella was suspended for 10 days for conducting an investigation without proper notification or authorization from the department, and Officer Mark DeAzevedo was suspended for seven days for failing to find contraband on a suspect during a search incident to an arrest.
From the Roselle Police Department, one officer received major discipline. Officer Frank Gauthier was suspended for 45 days after he was involved in an at-fault car accident and it was subsequently determined that he had been in violation of several department policies.
From the Union County Police Department, one officer received major discipline. Officer Antonio Cristofaro was suspended for 15 days for neglect of duty and improperly securing his firearm.
The report also listed officers from statewide or regional agencies who received major discipline.
From the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Hunterdon County, four officers were terminated, 12 officers were terminated and suspended, and eight officers were suspended. This facility drew national attention after 15 officers were criminally charged related to an incident in which inmates were assaulted and seriously injured on Jan. 12, 2021. According to the N.J. Attorney General’s Office, between approximately 10:30 p.m. on Jan. 11 and 1:15 a.m. on Jan. 12, DOC officers and supervisors assigned to the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility conducted forced cell extractions of inmates located in the Restorative Housing Unit complex; during the cell extractions, members of the extraction teams allegedly used excessive and unreasonable force, violating DOC policies and injuring two victims. The 15 defendants charged to date allegedly directed or participated in the forced cell extractions. Among the 15 defendants are Senior Correctional Police Officer Desiree Lewis, of Elizabeth, and Sgt. Amir E. Bethea, of Springfield. The criminal charges are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proved guilty in a court of law.
From the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility in Chesterfield, three officers were terminated, four officers were terminated and suspended, and four officers were suspended. Among them, Lt. Daniel Clement and Officer Dennis Turner were terminated for failing drug tests; Officer Scott Keith was terminated for posting a video on TikTok showing him threatening staff; and Officer Tirondola Luke was suspended for using racial epithets toward an inmate.
From the Rutgers University Police Department, one officer was terminated. From New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, two officers were suspended. From the Juvenile Justice Commission, eight officers were suspended. Northern State Prison in Newark, the New Jersey Department of Human Services and the New Jersey Park Police each suspended one officer.
From South Woods State Prison in Bridgeton, three officers were terminated, one officer was terminated and suspended, and six officers were suspended. Among them, Senior Officer Kodi Pollock was terminated and suspended for undue familiarity with an inmate.
From the Southern State Correctional Facility in Maurice River, one officer was demoted and suspended, and one other officer was suspended. Sgt. James Lawson was demoted and suspended for making an inappropriate social media post, and also suspended for 30 days for violating the policy regarding violence in the workplace.
From the William H. Fauver Youth Correctional Facility in Annandale, two officers were terminated, one was terminated and suspended, and two were suspended. Among them, Senior Officer Shamil Davis was terminated for notifying inmates of upcoming cell searches, possessing contraband and being under the influence of alcohol while on duty.
From the New Jersey State Police, five officers were terminated and 19 were suspended. Among them, Trooper Allen Cheng was suspended for 30 days for drawing his weapon, while off-duty, in an altercation with another driver without identifying himself as a police officer; Lt. Glenn Garrels was suspended for 30 days for creating a newsletter that contained inappropriate language concerning other members of the division; Sgt. Kristopher Gersten was terminated for violating the terms of a previously negotiated plea agreement for misconduct for being intoxicated while on duty; Detective Sgt. Christopher Tropiano was suspended for one year for failing to properly secure his weapon and a troop car, gambling both on and off-duty, using his position to intimidate or gain favor, and an alcohol-related off-duty incident, among other reasons; Sgt. 1st Class Roy Blackledge was suspended for 270 days after, while off-duty, getting into a car accident due to intoxication; Trooper Brian Kerrigan was terminated for violating the terms of a previously negotiated plea agreement for misconduct by repeated harassing behavior toward a civilian; Trooper Konrad Klosowski was suspended for 180 days for, while off-duty, being arrested for DUI following a car crash; Trooper Anthony Wolcott was suspended for 29 days for throwing his flashlight at a motor vehicle passing a car crash site; and Sgt. Stephen Wlazlo was suspended for 20 days for failing to secure his duty firearm, which was then accessed by another person and discharged.
From the NJ Transit Police Department, two officers were suspended. Among them, Officer Kevin O’Brien was suspended for eight days after engaging in a physical altercation during which his weapon became dislodged and unintentionally discharged.
From the State Parole Board, three officers were terminated, two officers were demoted and suspended, and five officers were suspended. Among them, Sgt. Ian DeHaven was suspended for 10 days and ordered to pay restitution for failing to secure a state vehicle and equipment, all of which were stolen, and Senior Officer Carlos Pimentel was terminated due to his inability to perform his duties, as he was unable to carry a firearm as a result of a restraining order issued as a result of a domestic violence proceeding.