Hillside police chief suspended

Vincent Ricciardi Jr.

HILLSIDE, NJ — Hillside Police Chief Vincent Ricciardi Jr. was suspended from the force earlier this month for reasons that have not been announced to the public.

The suspension has been confirmed by the Hillside administration.

“As of June 1, Hillside Police Chief Vincent Ricciardi has been on indefinite suspension,” the Hillside administration said in a statement. “Because this is a personnel matter, the administration will not comment on specifics.”

In the statement, Hillside Mayor Dahlia Vertreese confirmed the news but declined to comment further.

“The Hillside Police Department consists of professional officers who protect and serve our residents every day,” Vertreese said on June 5. “That will not change because of this current situation.”

According to the statement, Ricciardi’s replacement is Lt. Matthew Cove, who is now serving as acting chief of police.

A source, who also asked to remain anonymous, said the suspension stems from the chief approving a stipend for the police department’s training officer.

“The Hillside mayor quietly suspended the chief of police, Vincent Ricciardi. She also seeks to demote him to lieutenant. The reason she gives is because Chief Ricciardi approved a modest stipend for the department’s training officer, Sgt. Francisco Vega, approximately 18 months ago,” said the source. “The salary stipend has been added to the training officer’s salary for over 10 years. Sgt. Vega was assigned to the position in 2018, after the previous training officer retired. The chief transferred the stipend to him. There was nothing nefarious about it. It was a routine administrative matter and absolutely no wrongdoing involved.

“A week ago, she also advised Sgt. Vega that he would be required to repay the stipend to the township,” the source continued. “Sgt. Vega has been performing the duties as training officer for over 18 months and receiving the stipend, which was added to his salary, without question. Then, a week ago, she withdraws the stipend and suspends the chief of police.”

Ricciardi’s attorney, Ronald Ricci, of Ricci & Fava Attorneys at Law, was more open about his client’s situation.

“He is allegedly suspended for telling the business administrator that the law enforcement officer was entitled to a stipend,” Ricci said during a phone interview on June 5. “The stipend has been paid to the training officer for the last 10 years and by two previous chiefs also. The mayor has no authority to suspend him under the state law. He did nothing wrong.”

In documents to support this claim, Ricci outlines the civil service rules.

“N.J.A.C. 41:2-2.5 (b) controls the immediate suspension of a police officer,” the law firm’s document states. “The rule requires a hearing, discovery to be provided and a right to be heard before the immediate suspension of a civil service officer. None of this was provided to my client. Moreover, the alleged wrongful conduct is paying an employee a stipend for being a training officer. This has been done by the Hillside Police Department for over 10 years.

“My client became chief in July of 2017. It is absurd to argue by continuing a past practice that Chief Ricciardi’s immediate suspension is necessary to maintain the orderly and effective direction of the Hillside Police Department. The conduct also allegedly occurred 18 months ago. Moreover, the mayor of Hillside does not have the legal authority to unilaterally suspend the chief of police. Your own town ordinance and New Jersey statute makes that clear. Township Ordinance 789-9 makes clear that Chief Ricciardi is the department head and served at the pleasure and under the supervision of the Township Committee rather than the mayor. Moreover, N.J.S.A. 40:69a-43 (c) makes clear that the mayor needs to get permission from the Town Council and follow a process to remove the chief of police, who is a department head.”

Ricci filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ricciardo on June 8 and is hopeful that his client will be reinstated.