RARITAN TWP., NJ – Two court dates are looming for Hunterdon County Freeholder John Lanza, who has been charged with driving under the influence and reckless driving.
The charges stem from an Aug. 5 incident when Lanza was found by Raritan Township Police Patrol Officers Connor Gallagher and Dustin Pflug slumped over the steering wheel of his 2015 Ford Explorer around 5:30 p.m. Though they attempted to rouse Lanza by repeatedly shouting and banging on the window, Lanza was unresponsive, a police report states, leading Gallagher to forcibly enter the vehicle by breaking the front passenger window, which allowed him to open the door.
Initially, township officials released no details on the incident. After receiving a tip, TAPinto first sought information about the charges against Lanza on Sept. 6, but the township offered no response until Sept. 13. After being challenged, it provided more information on Sept. 18, then released its final redacted documents and video on Sept. 26.
The Township blames the delay, in part, on being “overwhelmed with five other requests from various persons and news agencies” regarding the incident.
The withholding of information led TAPinto to file suit in Superior Court seeking release of the redacted documents. That case will be heard tomorrow in Somerville before Judge Yolanda Ciccone.
In response to the suit, attorney Edward Purcell, who is representing the Township, claims release of the material is “barred by public policy” and called TAPinto’s suit “frivolous litigation.” Releasing the material, which might shed light on the $12,500 in cash that police said they recovered from Lanza, would infringe on Lanza’s “reasonable expectations of privacy,” Purcell claims.
Represented by Flemington attorney Carl Taylor, Lanza has entered the litigation as an “interested and intervening party.” In his objection to the release of the material, Taylor notes Lanza’s car was “legally parked” and that the redacted records are of a “private and personal nature.”
Further, Taylor argued that TAPinto does “not seek these records for any legitimate reason other than to embarrass Mr. Lanza for a medical emergency he suffered,” and that a “great deal of personal information of a medical nature is contained in the police report.”
According to a sworn statement filed with the court, not all of the missing audio is because of deliberate redactions. Pflug said that although his police vehicle recorder included “interior mic and mic pack on my person” the “interior mic was on but not working properly.” He also said his “mic pack” was not immediately not turned on, resulting in “unintentional gaps in the audio recordings.”
In his statement, Gallagher said he turned off his recorder when arriving at Hunterdon Medical Center – where Lanza was taken – because “I was not anticipating being in contact with the defendant” Lanza.
In defending its position, Purcell argues that Lanza was not arrested, something that is only done in a “situation where criminal charges, not motor vehicle charges, have or will be brought.” Yet Township police have routinely announced the arrests of others who face similar charges.
In his brief to the court, Purcell also argued that the Township didn’t release the detail that Lanza was a Freeholder “because such information did not exist.” Notwithstanding the claim, police can be heard in the video acknowledging Lanza’s government job.
Lanza, a Flemington-based attorney, is the Municipal Prosecutor for the Joint Municipal Court of East Amwell and Delaware. He said he has taken temporary leave from that post, pending the result of his DUI case, to which attorney John Paul Velez has entered a “not guilty” plea. That case will be heard on Monday before Sparta Municipal Court Judge Paris P. Eliades.
Lanza has said he is “confident” that he will prevail on the motor vehicle charges.