HOLMDEL, NJ - The story that raised a stink continues as the complaint filed against Holmdel Township by former Kenilworth Superintendent has been thrown out of federal court. According to U.S. District Court Judge Anne E. Thompson, in her opinion dated Sept. 9, said Tramaglini failed to show any connection between the alleged distribution of his mug shot and the termination of his employment.
“The sensational media coverage he received seems to have stemmed from the evocative nature of plaintiff’s public defecation charge coupled with the fact that the plaintiff was a superintendent at a different school district," wrote Thompson.
Former Kenilworth Schools Superintendent Thomas Tramaglini had, on April 30, filed a federal complaint against the Holmdel Police Department, the School Resource Officer, Police Chief and others. The lawsuit stems from him receiving several citations for defecating on Holmdel High School grounds.
Tramaglini, through his attorney, contended that he was unlawfully taken into custody without being issued a Miranda warning and that his booking mug shot was prohibited under New Jersey law for low-level noncriminal defenses when he was photographed on May 1, 2018.
Shortly after he defecated (eventually paying a fine of $500.00) on school grounds and was cited, he lost his job as Superintendent of Kenilworth schools. Holmdel police said at the time that the investigation that led to Tramaglini’s citations was initiated by complaints from school staffers using the fields. “(The) Holmdel School Resource Officer was alerted by Holmdel High School staff and coaches that they were finding human feces, on or near the area of the High School track / football field on a daily basis,” said Holmdel police in a statement on social media.
They said the resource officer and school staff “monitored the area and was able to identify a subject responsible for the acts.” Tramaglini is a Matawan resident, police said.
In his suit he maintained that the taking of mugshots (for what he was cited for in the case) is widely known in law enforcement as a prohibition. He is seeking damages and maintains that he will 'never achieve the level of compensation benefits and retirement pension income' that he would've otherwise had if the photograph had not been released to the media. Judge Thompson did not agree.
Thompson's opinion stated, “A mug shot merely provides a visual of someone with pending charges, and plaintiff does not allege that his pending charges were nonpublic," the judge wrote. “Second, a mug shot is not based in text. Its disclosure, without anything more, is less likely to facilitate false or inaccurate reporting about the defendant or his pending charges. Third, a mug shot is not the type of ‘highly personal matter representing the most intimate aspects of human affairs’ that historically has been protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.”
His suit cited the jurisdiction in the complaint as incorporated in the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth amendments of United States Constitution. His claim under the Fourth Amendment regards being secure from unreasonable search and seizure, under the Fifth Amendment regards a claim of being deprived of life liberty or property without due process of law and under the Sixth Amendment the right to enjoy a speedy and public trial.
The main complaint is about the booking photograph and the resulting worldwide coverage. His suit maintains that the booking photograph should not have been taken or distributed. He mainly focuses on Patrolman Martin and the Police Chief and other unnamed officers. Among other counts he alleges negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring, failure to supervise, defamation, invasion of privacy and intrusion of seclusion.
On October 24, 2018 he pled guilty to a single noncriminal municipal ordinance. All remaining allegations against him were dismissed. He paid a $500 fine and is represented by Fox Rothschild LLP and Attorney Matthew Adams.
Judge Thompson was ruling on the federal case and the plaintiffs may still file in state court. However, the first try in court did not pass the legal smell test. Stated Thompson in her opinion, “It is not clear how the mug shot — a simple neck-up photograph — plausibly could have caused any inaccurate reporting, and plaintiff does not allege that defendants publicly distributed any inaccurate information," the judge wrote. “Simply put, it can hardly be argued that but for the distribution of the mug shot — the only constitutionally deficient behavior alleged — the sensational media coverage and plaintiff’s termination would have transpired."