LINDEN, NJ — An independent review of the Linden Police Department’s handling of veteran officer Pedro Abad, a repeat DUI offender now in court for his role in a fatal accident last March, resulted in the Union County Prosecutor’s Office taking oversight of the internal affairs department in Linden.
“This review revealed that there is a clear need for our office to oversee the internal affairs functions of the Linden Police Department. We believe that this will only help the department become stronger in its enforcement of professional standards,” said acting Prosecutor Grace Park. “In addition, the implementation of the new countywide directive mandating notification will ensure that there is enhanced oversight, fairness, and consistency over any issues that arise regarding our police officers.”
The review, conducted by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office in order to avoid a conflict of interest, is also the justification for a new countywide directive in response to the Linden Police Department’s “deficient” response to various incidents Abad had been at the center of, even before he was behind the wheel in a wrong-way car crash that resulted in the deaths of two passengers in March 2015.
Many of the findings highlighted shortages in the Linden Police Department’s “internal affairs investigations regarding discipline of Abad” in his two prior DUIs, Park said on Friday, Jan. 9, in a statement. Abad, 28, was off-duty in each of the incidents.
These include a 2011 accident in Roselle, for which drunk driving charges were administratively dismissed, and a 2013 incident in Rahway, in which Abad plead guilty to driving while intoxicated and refusal of a breathalyzer test.
Last March, Abad crashed the car he was driving head-on into a tractor-trailer in Staten Island reportedly with a blood alcohol content of .24, greater than three times the legal limit in New York. He was driving home from a nearby strip club with several friends, according to authorities. Abad’s representation in court now claims it is possible Abad had been slipped a date-rape drug before getting in the car, and results from an independent review of Abad’s blood are still pending. In New Jersey, police officers can serve with a DUI conviction on their record, and it’s up to the department in question to discipline the officers for off-duty incidents.
Abad, a six-year veteran of the Linden Police Department, was involved in eight accidents dating back to 2005 at the time of the crash in March 2015, including the two DUIs. The officer’s driving record was easily accessible to higher-ups with the Linden Police Department, which is a member of the Garden State Municipal Joint Insurance Fund. Each municipality in the insurance group has to provide annual proof of a police officer’s driving record, which shows they’re not on a list for suspensions. Departments are also provided with each police officer’s driving record.
Abad’s various incidents were not addressed, though, until after Abad had been involved in the Staten Island crash, in which two of his three passengers died. Linden Police Officer Frank Viggiano, and civilian Joseph Rodriguez, both 28, died. Abad and another passenger, Linden Police Officer Patrik Kudlac, 23, were badly hurt. As a result of the findings in the review, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office honed in on several areas in which policy improvements could be made, according to Park.
Her office will exercise increased oversight of the Linden Police Department internal affairs functions, including comprehensive review of all major disciplinary investigations, findings, and penalties. It has also issued a directive requiring all municipal police departments to notify the Prosecutor’s Office “immediately” with the knowledge that an officer has a pending municipal court complaint involving a disorderly persons offense, a driving while intoxicated charge or similar violations.
For example, starting in May of last year, the Roselle Police Department established more comprehensive policies and procedures governing the preservation, retention, and transfer to appropriate prosecutors of certain forms of evidence in such cases, according to Park. Roselle was the municipality in which Abad’s first DUI was dismissed.