Edison: Four Police Officers Plead Guilty To Retaliation Charge Against North Brunswick Cop
Thugs disguised as cops. And they wonder why people don't trust them. Pathetic.
By CHARLES W. KIM, CONTENT EDITOR
September 17, 2016 at 8:24 AM
EDISON, NJ – Four township police officers pleaded guilty Friday to charges they planned to retaliate against a North Brunswick police officer who arrested an individual, known to one of the officers, for drunk driving in 2012, according to a Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office press release.
Officers Michael Dotro, 39, of Manalapan, Brian Favretto, 41, of Brick, Victor Aravena, 45, of Edison and Sgt. William Gesell, 48, of Edison, made the pleas Friday with jury selection in their trial underway, according to the release.
The charges stem from a 2012 incident where a North Brunswick police officer arrested an individual for drunk driving, police said.
Dotro, who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy in the case, knew the individual charged and admitted that he sought to retaliate against the North Brunswick officer for the arrest, according to police.
Favretto pleaded guilty to a count of obstruction of the administration of the law, admitting that he tried to intervene in the drunk driving case, police said.
Sgt. Gesell admitted that he accessed computer records on the North Brunswick officer to aid Dotro in the retaliation plan, according to police. He pleaded guilty to tampering with public records, police said.
Aravena pleaded guilty to a count of obstruction of administration of the law by admitting that he passed along computer records to Dotro as part of the plan.
Although the plans were in process, no actual retaliation took place, investigators determined.
The officers are scheduled to be sentenced in New Brunswick on Jan. 13, 2017 and each will forfeit their jobs and never hold public jobs in the state again as well as face probationary terms under the terms of the plea agreement, police said.
“This is a sad day for the Edison Police Department because of the tarnish it brings to the reputations of our many other upstanding and hard-working police officers,” Edison Business Administrator Maureen Ruane said. “We are glad to see these men chose to resign their positions, bringing an end to their tenure here. We must also commend the Middlesex County Prosecutors Office for its diligent investigation and prosecution of this matter.”
The case is not the end for Dotro, however.
He is facing several other charges from two unrelated matters.
Dotro is also charged with slashing a township woman’s tires, having prohibited devices, possession of an imitation firearm, carrying brass knuckles, carrying a small club known as a “black jack,” possession of a small quantity of marijuana and possession of a device to smoke marijuana, all from a May, 2013 incident, according to police.
He is also charged with attempted murder and other charges from trying to set fire to the Monroe Township home of his police captain, while the captain and his family were asleep.
4 Edison cops plead guilty in retaliation plot over DUI
Defense Attorney Laurence Bitterman speaks to Officer Michael Dotro during his arraignment on charges of attempted murder and arson for allegedly firebombing a supervisor's house. Dotro makes his first court appearance at the Middlesex County Superior Courthouse in New Brunswick on Friday, May 24, 2013. (Frances Micklow/The Star-Ledger)
Frances Micklow | For NJ Advance Media
By Noah Cohen | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
on September 16, 2016 at 5:23 PM, updated September 16, 2016 at 6:57 PM
NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — Four Edison police officers pleaded guilty Friday for their roles in a plot to retaliate against a North Brunswick police officer who cited one of the officer's relatives on a drunk driving charge, prosecutors announced.
Officer Michael A. Dotro, 39, of Manalapan, Officer Brian Favretto, 41, of Brick, Officer Victor E. Aravena, 45, and Sgt. William H. Gesell, 48, both of Edison, reached plea agreements as jury selection was underway to try the four, according to the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office.
Each officer faces probation, must give up their government jobs and be barred from future public employment after sentencing scheduled for Jan. 13 in New Brunswick, prosecutors said.
All four officers resigned from the force, according to a township spokesman.
"This is a sad day for the Edison Police Department because of the tarnish it brings to the reputations of our many other upstanding and hard-working police officers," Edison Business Administrator Maureen Ruane said in a statement. "We are glad to see these men chose to resign their positions, bringing an end to their tenure here."
"We must also commend the Middlesex County Prosecutors Office for its diligent investigation and prosecution of this matter," Ruane added.
The one guy had 11 excessive force complaints against him, and the only disposition, was that he see a shrink. No suspension, leave of absence, termination?? Then he tries to burn down his boss's home. Typical New Jersey cops, especially the Italians. They are the worst thugs of all.
4 Edison cops indicted on conspiracy, misconduct charges
Michael Dotro and the three others are charged with trying to retaliate against a North Brunswick cop who issued a ticket to one of Dotro’s relatives.
Dotro pleaded guilty to conspiracy and admitted he planned to retaliate against the North Brunswick officer, who ticketed one of his relatives. The officer also faces separate charges, including attempted murder, for allegedly setting an Edison police captain's home on fire while the captain and his wife were asleep inside.
The officer allegedly torched his supervisor's home after the captain reportedly ordered him to undergo a psychological evaluation following his 11th excessive force complaint. Dotro pleaded not guilty in that case.
In another case against the officer, prosecutors allege Dotro slashed the tires on an Edison woman's car and had brass knuckles, an imitation weapon, a black jack, a small amount of marijuana and a device used to smoke the drug in his police duty bag on May 23, 2013.
Favretto pleaded guilty to obstruction of the administration of law for trying to intervene in the DUI case. Gesell admitted he accessed computer records on the North Brunswick officer and pleaded guilty to tampering with public records.
For his part, Aravena admitted he gave the computer records to Dotro to help in the retaliation scheme. Aravena pleaded guilty to obstruction of the administration of law.
The prosecutor's office, however, said its investigation found the four never actually carried out the retaliation scheme against the North Brunswick officer.
The charges against the four Edison officers was among a series of embarrassments for the department, which has included lawsuits and criminal probes.
Typical New Jersey cops. These ones just got caught. They are also mostly Italians, the worst thugs around. They have that scumbag sense of entitlement which makes them think they're above the law. Most of their criminal behavior gets swept beneath the carpet. Where there is smoke, there is fire. The public doesn't know a fraction of it.
See also the link here
for the crimes committed by other New Jersey Officers.
Betraying the badge: Edison police produce astonishing record of misconduct
By Mark Mueller | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
on December 10, 2012 at 12:15 AM, updated November 09, 2015 at 1:49 PM
Edison police investigation: Day 2 Documents
Internal affairs report sustaining allegations of excessive force in arrest of Delevan Du Bois
Internal affairs report summarizing complaints against Sgt. Alex Glinsky
Legal certification by former internal affairs commander regarding allegations of racism against Sgt. Alex Glinsky
Officer Daniel Boslet's internal affairs statement about Sgt. Alex Glinsky
Officer Jerome Sisolak's internal affairs statement about Sgt. Alex Glinsky
Officer Shawn Meade's internal affairs statement about Sgt. Alex Glinsky
Officer Joseph Kenney's internal affairs statement about Sgt. Alex Glinsky
EDISON, NJ — From her room in a low-budget motel on Route 1, a prostitute working as an informant for the Woodbridge Police Department reached out to her handler with an urgent tip.
A client had contacted her. He was flush with cocaine — "white," he called it — and he wanted to trade some of it for sex, she told the handler.
Woodbridge detectives, deep into an investigation of drug-trafficking at hotels along the highway, moved into position and waited.
On that Saturday morning in 2010, the man the prostitute identified as her client, Thomas Wall, was inaugurated into one of New Jersey’s more infamous brotherhoods: Edison police officers who have betrayed the badge.
Wall — who would later fail a department-ordered drug test, documents show — is one of at least 30 Edison officers who were fired or who abruptly resigned amid allegations of inappropriate or illegal behavior over the past two decades. That figure, confirmed by Chief Thomas Bryan, includes six officers removed from the force or prosecuted in the past four years alone.
It is an astonishing record of misconduct unmatched by any department of equivalent size in New Jersey, a Star-Ledger review has found. Edison — the state’s fifth-largest municipality, with a population of about 100,000 — has 168 officers, down from a high of 215 eight years ago.
In neighboring Woodbridge, which has a slightly larger force and about 400 fewer residents, just seven officers have run afoul of the law or committed rules violations serious enough to warrant termination in the past 20 years, a township spokesman confirmed. Two of the seven were later reinstated.
And in Toms River, with 150 officers and 91,000 residents, not a single officer has been charged or removed for cause in the same time period, longtime Police Chief Michael Mastronardy said.
Edison police officer Thomas Wall resigned from the force after failing a drug test, documents show. He was tested after a prostitute working as a confidential informant for Woodbridge police told her handlers a client wanted to trade cocaine for sex, law enforcement officials said. The prostitute identified Wall as her client, the officials said. (Patti Sapone/The Star-Ledger)
Asked if any officers had been allowed to quietly retire in lieu of criminal or administrative action, Mastronardy responded: "We don’t negotiate on behavior. If you do something, you get charged."
The misconduct in Edison is even more stark when compared with New Jersey’s biggest law enforcement agency, the State Police.
With about 2,800 enlisted personnel, the organization is nearly 17 times larger than Edison’s force, yet in the past two decades, just 72 troopers have been forced out, said Paul Loriquet, a spokesman for the state Attorney General’s Office. Thirty-eight were terminated outright. The remaining 34 retired or resigned while under investigation or after disciplinary charges had been filed, Loriquet said.
The Edison Police Department’s defenders say most officers are dedicated and honest. They say, too, the force’s darkest days are well in the past, that a long-standing tolerance for bad behavior has been largely snuffed out.
But the bleak fact remains that in Edison, police officers continue to find trouble at a far greater clip than their counterparts across the state.
"I wish I had the answer," said Councilman Wayne Mascola, who has pushed for greater accountability on the force. "Why do the Mets get someone — maybe a Hall of Famer — and he goes down the tubes?
"Maybe it’s the Edison uniform."
At the same time, the department is contending with multiple allegations of police brutality and a related attack on the integrity of the internal affairs unit by plaintiffs’ lawyers, who say investigators skew their findings to benefit accused officers.
The FBI is investigating one of the brutality cases as a civil rights violation and has seized records and other evidence, including officers’ clothing and video footage from squad cars, according to court records and law enforcement officials familiar with the probe.
"They’re really not trying to stop this stuff," said Thomas Mallon, a Freehold lawyer who has filed two suits alleging excessive force.
"It’s an ongoing problem," Mallon said, "and it will keep happening unless they reform their internal affairs procedures, because they’ve got some serious problems with guys who are heavy-handed and act like thugs."
Edison Police Chief Thomas Bryan, a former internal affairs commander, says he is working to reform a culture of bad behavior on the force. “As a leader of the department, I finally have a chance to make a difference, ” he said. “And I say, ‘No, not on my watch.’” Aaron Houston/For The Star-Ledger
Compounding the department’s troubles, an internal power struggle has exploded into open civil war, with officers plotting against one another and the chief, The Star-Ledger reported Sunday.
The newspaper found an environment of threats and intimidation, an internal affairs unit that gathered intelligence on politicians and officers’ families, and more than a dozen lawsuits alleging harassment, discrimination or political favoritism.
The collateral casualties in this fight are the taxpayers, who will bear the legal bills for years to come.
Thomas Bryan, now in his fourth year as chief, could look at the roster of officers drummed out of his department and view it as a mark of shame. Instead, he says, he sees it as a measure of progress.
"It looks bad. It looks like a black mark. But it’s getting better," said Bryan, a former internal affairs commander who investigated many of the officers. "We’re cleaning house. There’s a culture that me and my administration are changing."
That culture, Bryan said, has been embedded in the fabric of the police department for decades. It is the sense among some officers that they are above the law and that a badge is a form of protection, because any decent cop, the belief goes, would do whatever it takes to protect another cop.
It is a philosophy enshrined in the police department’s most high-profile embarrassments.
No one on the force likes to talk about the Captain’s Wheel. Ancient history, officers say, calling any reference to the 1977 incident unfair to today’s members. Bryan says it’s history that should not be forgotten.
On Oct. 25 of that year, Sgt. William Quigley and two patrolmen, Charles Fekete and Dominic Semenza, brutally beat two Staten Island men in the Captain’s Wheel bar on Route 1 in Edison during an off-duty fight. To mask their roles in the attack, the three summoned on-duty officers to charge the men with assault.
Former Edison officer Charles Fekete was convicted of raping a woman in her apartment while he was on duty in 1991. Fekete has since died. Star-Ledger file photo
The cover-up ultimately failed, costing taxpayers millions of dollars in settlements and legal fees. Despite their actions, the officers were not fired. Quigley was suspended for two years, Fekete and Semenza for 45 days each.
Fekete would go on to rape a drunken woman in her apartment while on duty in 1991, a crime that landed him in prison for 10 years. Quigley, in yet another cover-up, falsely portrayed the victim as a woman with severe psychological problems, authorities said. He later resigned to avoid prosecution.
Semenza, too, would run into trouble again. Summoned to a parking lot where his granddaughter had been drinking alcohol with her boyfriend in 2004, Semenza allegedly punched the boyfriend in the jaw, pointed his service weapon at the man’s head and threatened to kill him, according to a lawsuit against the department.
Semenza, by then a lieutenant, retired amid an internal affairs investigation, court papers show. An IA report obtained by The Star-Ledger shows he almost certainly would have been disciplined for taking the boyfriend behind a Dumpster for several minutes, a violation of protocol.
Charges of assault could not be sustained — meaning they could neither be proven nor disproven — because other officers on the scene testified the Dumpster obscured their view, the report said.
Bryan said he could not comment on individual disciplinary cases. Speaking generally, he said the lessons of the past should be a reminder of the need for vigilance.
"As a leader of the department, I finally have a chance to make a difference," he said. "And I say, ‘No, not on my watch. You’re not going to do that.’ We’re not talking about someone who works at a convenience store. Not someone who works at a factory. This is someone the public entrusts to make diligent, fair, non-biased decisions about public safety and people’s welfare."
Edison police officer Ioannis Mpletsakis was fired after fleeing the scene of an accident in 2005. He was naked at the time. In 2007, a judge ruled termination was too harsh a punishment and ordered him reinstated. Amanda Brown/For The Star-Ledger
WHO WAS COUNTED
The Star-Ledger reached its figure of 30 officers by examining the public record and internal affairs files. Law enforcement officials familiar with the circumstances of terminations and retirements augmented the list.
One of the fired officers, Ioannis Mpletsakis, was reinstated in 2007 after a Superior Court judge ruled termination was too harsh a punishment. Mpletsakis fled the scene of an accident while off-duty in 2005. He was naked.
The newspaper’s list does not include Fekete, the convicted rapist, because he was fired before the 20-year review period. Quigley, who tried to cover up the rape, is included because he did not resign until years after the crime. Both men have since died.
Among the remaining officers, some lost their jobs to common greed, others to anger, according to published accounts and the law enforcement officials familiar with the cases.
One repeatedly had sex in headquarters while on duty. Two knowingly wrote bad checks. Two more, including the former head of the vice squad, were found to be working part time at brothels. Drugs — prescription and otherwise — claimed a handful.
David Yanvary threw his livelihood away for a bottle of canola oil, a jar of honey, a candle and a DVD of the movie "Role Models."
Three years ago, the veteran officer stole the items — with a total value of $42 — from a supermarket where he worked part time as a security guard. He pleaded guilty to shoplifting and was placed on probation for a year.
Robert Spinello went for a bigger score. Forty minutes before reporting for duty in January 1999, he used his service weapon to rob an Edison bank, walking away with $3,500. Spinello was sentenced to nine years in federal prison.
Former Edison police officer David Yanvary pleaded guilty to shoplifting in 2009 and was sentenced to a year of probation. He stole $42 worth of items, including a DVD of the movie "Role Models." File photo
Violence or the threat of it cut short several careers.
Alan Farkas drew a handgun on a rescue squad member during an off-duty argument in 2005. Joseph Tauriello, a former president of the Policemen’s Benevolent Association, attacked his wife’s ex-husband at a youth soccer game in 2003.
Six years earlier, Wayne Seich roughed up his 71-year-old neighbor in a fit of rage after she complained to his superiors about the way he parked his patrol car on their block. Seich, who pleaded guilty to simple assault, would later be granted a disability pension based on an inability to control his anger.
A jury acquitted Clint Vickery of battering a man in a 2005 bar fight, but an internal affairs investigation found his behavior troubling enough that he was charged departmentally. Vickery resigned under a settlement agreement with the township. His girlfriend had testified at the trial he was a "time bomb."
"Everybody agrees that he’s an aggressive individual," she said.
Lt. Bruce Polkowitz — president of the Superior Officers Association, the union that represents sergeants, lieutenants and captains — acknowledges the department has had problem officers, but he said most incidents occurred off duty and that the offending officers were appropriately punished.
"When you look at the police department as being rogue or Wild West, it’s simply an unfair statement," Polkowitz said. "We come to work. We do our jobs professionally. We rise to every occasion. And we perform above and beyond expectations."
Recounting past incidents, Polkowitz added, unfairly "paints current officers with the same brush."
DOZENS OF COMPLAINTS
But for every older transgression, there is a more recent one.
Sgt. Alex Glinsky retired in February of last year after leaving a photo of himself, naked and fully aroused, on a computer at police headquarters.
An investigation showed Glinsky also downloaded pictures of nude women and cruised adult dating websites while on the job, according to an internal affairs report.
Granted a nine-month paid stress leave, he eventually pleaded guilty to departmental charges, agreeing to forfeit accrued sick and vacation pay, internal documents show. He retained his $84,000-a-year pension.
The incident marked the final blow to a career shadowed by trouble almost from the start. Glinsky, 49, the son of a former treasurer for the Edison Democratic Organization, amassed at least 29 internal affairs complaints over 18 years, records show. He also faced criminal charges of assault and sexual contact with a minor. In each of the criminal cases, a grand jury declined to indict him.
Polkowitz, who passionately defends most officers, called his former co-worker "the worst of the worst" and suggested Glinsky should have been fired long ago.
Colleagues complained he called a pregnant officer a "whore" whose unborn baby "should be killed." At least five officers told internal affairs the veteran sergeant routinely used racial epithets to describe suspects and law-abiding citizens alike, sometimes in earshot of residents.
"The respect for the public is horrendous, absolutely horrendous," Officer Daniel Boslet told an IA investigator in August 2008, according to an interview transcript obtained by The Star-Ledger. "It leaves a bad mark on the entire department because people see him act that way and they think we all act that way."
Glinsky, who most recently worked as a security guard at a state Motor Vehicle Commission office in Edison, said in an interview he was an exemplary, hardworking supervisor who made enemies on the force because he held officers accountable, writing them up for failing to follow procedures or for loafing on the job.
Edison police Sgt. Alex Glinsky amassed more than two dozen internal affairs complaints over his career. He retired in a departmental plea deal in 2011 after a naked photo of him was found on a computer in police headquarters. Glinsky also downloaded nude photos of women and cruised dating websites while on the job, internal affairs records show. Robert Sciarrino/The Star-Ledger
He and his lawyer, Lawrence Bitterman, adamantly denied wrongdoing by the former officer.
"He’s been targeted by a half dozen or a dozen lazy malcontents who did not want to work under a demanding sergeant," said Bitterman, a New Brunswick-based attorney who regularly represents officers accused of misconduct.
Glinsky called the naked photo of himself a "personal matter."
He is one of six officers who resigned, retired or faced criminal charges over alleged improprieties since 2008.
Thomas Marino Jr., the son of an Edison sergeant, was dismissed after testing positive for a controlled dangerous substance, according to a termination letter signed by Edison’s former police director, Brian Collier.
David Rodriguez resigned while under criminal investigation, another letter from Collier shows. The law enforcement officials with knowledge of the cases said Rodriguez made a traffic ticket disappear.
Adam "Buddy" Tietchen, a veteran patrolman, admitted lying to investigators about a local business where he worked security on his off-hours. That business, authorities say, was a front for prostitution.
Tietchen, who pleaded guilty to the equivalent of a disorderly persons offense and swiftly retired, maintains he did not know the business was a brothel and said he would have fought the charges had his girlfriend not been dying of cancer, clouding his thinking at the time.
He also insists he was targeted because he previously filed an age discrimination suit against the department. The township settled with him for $50,000, records show.
Veteran Edison police officer Adam "Buddy" Tietchen, now 67, pleaded guilty in 2009 to lying to investigators about a township business where he worked security during his off-hours. That business, authorities say, was a front for prostitution. Tietchen was sentenced to a year of probation over the charge, the equivalent of a disorderly persons offense. File photo
"I was on the force for 29 years and nine months, and I was never charged with anything before," said Tietchen, now 67. "There are guys who did 100 times worse than me, and they’re still working. It’s absolutely amazing."
The other officers forced out in the past four years are Yanvary, the supermarket shoplifter, and Wall, the patrolman accused of offering to trade cocaine for sex with a prostitute who advertised on the internet.
Wall, whose role in the incident has not been previously made public, was spared the possibility of criminal charges, the product of an on-scene mix-up.
Three law enforcement officials with knowledge of the details said that when Wall arrived at the Route 1 hotel that day in June 2010, he was confronted by Woodbridge police officers who recognized him.
Wall, the officials said, told them he was working undercover. The Woodbridge officers, unaware of the client’s identity, in turn told him they had their own operation under way and to leave.
Minutes later, the officers learned from the prostitute they had just sent the client away, according to the officials, who were not authorized to discuss the case publicly.
Following protocol, Woodbridge police alerted the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, but Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan said in an interview the notification came after a full day, slowing the investigative response.
Edison police say this building, off Brunswick Avenue, once housed a brothel where officer Adam "Buddy" Tietchen worked security. In 2009, Tietchen pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about his role at the company and retired. Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger
Woodbridge also reached out to Bryan, who quickly ordered his officer to submit to a drug test. Wall, a 13-year veteran who was making $102,000 at the time, came up positive for cocaine, two of the law enforcement officials said.
A letter to Wall from Mayor Antonia Ricigliano, Edison’s public safety director, shows he was immediately suspended without pay. He soon quit the force, acknowledging the failed drug test in his resignation letter. The Star-Ledger has obtained copies of both letters.
Because he did not enter the hotel room, Wall was not criminally charged, the officials said. He is barred from working in law enforcement in New Jersey again.
Wall’s direct supervisor at the time, Sgt. John Vaticano, said he was stunned when he heard the allegations of his officer’s actions that day.
"It knocked the breath out of me," said Vaticano, now retired. "I was very disappointed. My opinion of him as a cop at the time was, ‘Wow, he’s very proactive,’ and to hear this happened?"
Kaplan said he could not go into detail about the case, but he expressed dissatisfaction with the outcome.
"Suffice it to say we were not happy with how the investigation was handled or concluded," he said. "Any time you’re dealing with a police officer who is a suspect or on the periphery, I believe that matter has to be handled at a high level and delicately."
Wall, now 41, did not respond to requests for comment. After leaving the force, he filed for a disability pension, a request that was denied. He has appealed the decision and is scheduled to make his case before an administrative law judge in March.
Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan, left, is shown in this file photo. Star-Ledger file photo
Other allegations of misbehavior among officers could have resulted in terminations, but investigators lacked the evidence to make charges stick, records show.
According to internal affairs correspondence obtained by The Star-Ledger, members of the department stole a police cruiser — Car 70 — from a parking lot at police headquarters in 2008 as a practical joke on the sergeant to whom it was assigned. The culprits then parked it on a dead-end street four miles away, where it went undiscovered for a week.
Because of post-9/11 concerns that law enforcement vehicles could be used in a terrorist attack, the theft triggered a homeland security alert, drawing in the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, the correspondence shows. A township chemical company, designated a "Tier 1" facility under federal security guidelines, also was placed on alert.
Three night-shift officers — Michael Dotro, Matthew Haras and Jeffrey Tierney — initially agreed to take responsibility for the theft, according to an internal memo written by Sgt. Darrin Cerminaro, then an internal affairs investigator.
The officers changed their minds when they were told they could not be guaranteed the minimum punishment, a written reprimand, Cerminaro wrote.
Dotro, Haras and Tierney "decided not to come in to police headquarters to turn themselves in because they believe they would be terminated," Cerminaro wrote.
The case remains open. All three officers continue to work for the department.
Bitterman, the New Brunswick attorney, represented Dotro and Haras during the investigation. He called Cerminaro’s characterization "completely and utterly false."
"These officers categorically denied their involvement in a tape-recorded statement and were never charged," Bitterman said.
It wasn’t the first time internal affairs had been called on to investigate Dotro, and it wouldn’t be the last. In 2005, he was at the center of tensions between the department and the township’s Asian-Indian community after arresting a man who accused him of brutality. Amid community protests and headlines, he was cleared.
Three years later, he had a fistfight with his 68-year-old neighbor, who claimed the officer, then 31, punched him a half-dozen times after a dispute about a shed on Dotro’s Manalapan property. Both men filed assault charges in the case. Both were acquitted in municipal court.
Delevan Du Bois claims in a lawsuit Edison police officers beat him because he refused to relinquish a bottle of pills he was holding during a visit to his psychologist’s office. This photo was introduced as evidence in the case. In February, Du Bois settled with the township for $100,000.
ALLEGATIONS OF VIOLENCE
The woman on the 911 call seemed frantic.
"He’s flipping out," she told a dispatcher. "He’s gonna — he’s punching (inaudible). He’s gonna (expletive) attack me. I’m done with his (expletive) temper. I’m done with his temper."
Then she added: "He’s a police officer. He’s on duty."
The caller that day in October 2007 was the wife of Edison Patrolman Paul Pappas, whose marital problems and volatile emotional state were well known to supervisors in the police department, according to documents filed in federal court in connection with an excessive force lawsuit.
A few months earlier, Pappas had been involved in another domestic dispute with his wife, who told an investigator her husband had punched a hole in the wall and smashed a phone, the court papers show.
Over the next two years, Pappas would be named in two excessive force lawsuits and an additional brutality complaint that did not result in litigation. The suits are among at least five alleging Edison officers were unduly violent while making arrests in the past four years.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs contend the department’s internal affairs unit and a succession of chiefs have done little to rein in heavy-handed officers, clearing them of wrongdoing even in the face of strong evidence and serious injury to defendants.
"There’s a pattern, and it gives everyone on the department confidence to believe, ‘I’m gonna get away with it,’ " said Nicholas Martino, a Marlboro lawyer who has brought three lawsuits against the department in the past decade.
Mallon, the Freehold lawyer who has twice sued the department, argues the internal affairs unit’s handling of Pappas illustrates the problem.
While Pappas received crisis counseling after his first domestic dispute, Mallon said in legal papers, there is no record of additional counseling or discipline after the second domestic incident.
In between those disputes, Pappas was accused in an internal affairs complaint of grabbing a teenager at a football game and ramming him against a fence. Chief Bryan, then a lieutenant in charge of the IA unit, exonerated him, court documents show.
Delevan Du Bois claims in a lawsuit Edison police officers beat him because he refused to relinquish a bottle of pills he was holding during a visit to his psychologist's office. This photo was introduced as evidence in the case. In February, Du Bois settled with the township for $100,000.
Then in June 2008, Pappas and another officer, Christopher Sorber, were accused of punching, kicking and kneeing Delevan Du Bois, a 65-year-old Piscataway man who refused to hand over a bottle of medication as ordered during a visit to his psychologist. The psychologist, fearing Du Bois would harm himself, had summoned police to transport him to a hospital.
Internal affairs records show Lt. Mario Severino determined Pappas and Sorber used excessive force on Du Bois, who suffered a torn ear, gashes on his forehead and cuts and bruises across his face.
After a lawsuit was filed, Bryan ordered a different officer to conduct a new internal affairs investigation. This time, Pappas and Sorber were exonerated.
Severino later said in a deposition the new probe was ordered after an attorney for the township’s joint insurance fund raised questions about the case.
"Obviously, the outcome of the investigation was — did not enhance their (the township’s) standing with this lawsuit," he said, according to a transcript.
A year later, Pappas was involved in an alleged attack on a man whose wife had called police, saying she worried he was about to ride his motorcycle while drunk.
Like Du Bois, Joao DeMatos suffered a lacerated ear and numerous cuts and bruises. He also had a mild brain injury and broken bones in his face, according to medical records appended to DeMatos’ lawsuit. Pappas and another officer, Anthony Sarni, were cleared of wrongdoing by internal affairs. Bryan, by then chief, was not involved in the investigation.
Mallon calls it a whitewash.
"Had they properly disciplined one of the officers in the Du Bois case, we probably would not have been back in court with DeMatos," Mallon said. "It tells me they’re not serious about their internal affairs process."
Police video of officers arresting Lenus Germe in Edison This video shows police officers arresting Lenus Germe, a suspect in a domestic violence incident, around the corner from his home in Edison. In a lawsuit, Germe contends the videotape shows the first of two beatings by various officers on May 20, 2008. The second alleged incident, which was not recorded, was more severe and involved officers throwing him down a flight of stairs and beating him into unconsciousness at police headquarters, Germe alleges. Lawyers for the officers say they used appropriate force to subdue Germe, who has an extensive criminal history. According to law enforcement officials and court documents, the FBI is investigating the case as a civil rights violation. The video was shot from a camera inside the squad car shared by officers Salvatore Capriglione and Scot Sofield. Sofield is the first out of the car. Seconds later, Capriglione follows and is seen kicking Germe in the head. The other officers on the scene are Jeffrey Tierney and Sgt. Jason Gerba, who is standing, gun drawn, at the start of the tape. After the incident, Capriglione went out on a lengthy stress-related medical leave and retired on disability. A law enforcement expert who viewed the tape at the request of The Star-Ledger said the video does not clearly demonstrate excessive force because Germe, once kicked in the head, strenuously resists attempts to handcuff him.
The Du Bois suit settled for $100,000 in February. Taxpayers also picked up the legal fees, which topped $184,000, according to bills obtained under the Open Public Records Act. DeMatos’ trial has not been scheduled. Legal fees in that case have climbed above $72,000, records show.
Pappas, 38, declined to comment. In a letter to The Star-Ledger, his attorney, Lori Dvorak, called Pappas a "longstanding and dedicated" member of the department. Dvorak declined to comment on behalf of Sorber, Pappas’ co-defendant in the Du Bois suit, and Sarni, the co-defendant in the DeMatos case.
Bryan said his internal affairs unit handled the claims of excessive force appropriately. In the Du Bois case, he said, he ordered a new probe not because a lawsuit was filed but because Severino, the first investigator, did not do a thorough job.
"It was just a very, very incomplete investigation," Bryan said. "There were a lot of holes in the report."
Severino was later transferred out of internal affairs and assigned to a watch commander’s post. He retired in 2010 at age 54.
Another case in which charges of excessive force were not sustained remains under investigation by the FBI.
Lenus Germe, a suspect in a domestic violence incident at the time, was allegedly beaten twice on May 20, 2008, once in the driveway of a township home and again at police headquarters, where officers threw him down a flight of stairs and battered him into unconsciousness, he claims in a lawsuit.
Part of the initial confrontation outdoors was captured by a squad car camera before officers, apparently realizing they were being recorded, appeared to turn the camera off.
The video — which can be seen on NJ.com, the online home of The Star-Ledger — is at odds with mandatory use-of-force reports filed by two of the officers, Salvatore Capriglione and Scot Sofield.
In the reports, which were reviewed by the newspaper, Sofield checked a box for the use of a compliance hold but left blank a box for the use of hands or fists. The video shows he punched Germe several times.
Capriglione, in his own report, checked boxes for a compliance hold and "other" force but did not elaborate. The video shows he kicked Germe in the head, and he appeared to throw at least one punch.
Lenus Germe contends in a lawsuit Edison police officers beat him twice on May 20, 2008, once in a driveway and again, more severely, at police headquarters. An internal affairs investigation found the charges could not be sustained. The FBI continues to investigate the case as a civil rights violation. A squad-car video of the initial confrontation can be found on nj.com. File photo
Dotro, Haras and Tierney — the officers suspected by internal affairs of stealing the police car — also are defendants in the case. The lawsuit accuses Tierney of taking part in both alleged beatings. Dotro and Haras stood by and did nothing to stop the attacks, the suit contends.
In legal papers, the accused officers denied throwing Germe down the staircase or acting inappropriately in any way.
A law enforcement expert asked by The Star-Ledger to review the video of the initial confrontation said Germe appeared to resist the officers after he was kicked in the head.
Wayne Fisher, a professor at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Criminal Justice and a former deputy director of the state Division of Criminal Justice, said that while the kick by Capriglione was perhaps unnecessary, it did not amount to a clear-cut case of police brutality.
The second alleged beating at police headquarters — which Germe claims was far more severe — was not recorded.
An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment. The agency’s involvement is verified in a subpoena seeking files related to the case and in court documents filed by the officers’ lawyers. The attorneys sought to put the civil case on hold last year while the federal probe progressed. A judge denied their motion.
Capriglione, now 46, was out for a year on a stress-related medical leave after the scuffle, a period in which he was questioned several times by the FBI, according to two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the probe.
He has since retired on an accidental disability pension that pays him $6,592 per month, according to the state Division of Pensions and Benefits. Capriglione’s lawyer declined comment.
No trial date for the case has been set. Legal fees have so far eclipsed $236,000, records show.
Bryan said he could not address the Germe case because of the ongoing litigation. But he said he’s confident the findings in all of the department’s excessive force cases would hold up under scrutiny by the county prosecutor’s office or the state Attorney General’s Office.
"They will come to the same conclusion given the facts and circumstances of each case," he said. "I have no doubt about that."
Star-Ledger staff writer Amy Brittain contributed to this report.