Essex County News

Lieutenant Found Guilty in Ongoing Legal Battle with Borough of Caldwell

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CALDWELL, NJ — In an ongoing lawsuit between Caldwell Lt. Michael Geary and the Borough of Caldwell, which recommended a suspension of 36 hours for insubordination and conduct unbecoming of a superior officer, Lt. Geary was found guilty of these charges on Tuesday by Hearing Officer Raymond Hayducka.

In August 2016, Caldwell Chief of Police James Bongiorno and Detective Sgt. Brad Palatucci served paperwork related to an ongoing internal affairs investigation to Geary, which resulted in a failed “fitness for duty” exam. When ordered to surrender his department-issued badge, identification and key fob, Geary said “no” and told Bongiorno that if he wanted these items, he would have to retrieve them himself—resulting in the insubordination charge.

The departmental charges with the recommended penalty of 36 hours were served to Lt. Geary on Jan. 12, 2017. At the time, Geary stated that he believed these charges were served in retaliation for his filing an official notice of intent to sue both the chief and the borough in August 2016 for discrimination among other wrongful acts. (See story HERE.)

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Following the decision announced by Hayducka, who is also the Chief of Police in South Brunswick, Geary said he would move forward with the civil lawsuit.

“We fully expected that another Chief of Police, hired and paid by the town who brought the absurd charge against me, would rule the way he did,” said Geary. “The sworn evidence adduced at the hearing was apparently irrelevant to him.”

Geary said his intention is now to appeal the decision to the Superior Court, where he believes he will “more than likely be fully exonerated.”

“Simultaneously, we will file my civil lawsuit,” he said. “It’s game on now.”

Based on Tuesday’s decision, Geary’s attorney, Patrick Toscano, said there is good cause to believe that Hayducka is a member of the same organization that Bongiorno belongs to—The New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police (NJSACOP).

“This was unknown prior to the decision/ruling in this Internal Affairs trial, and never revealed at any time by either the Hearing Officer or Mr. Bongiorno,” he said. “An email to the Hearing Officer in this regard has not been responded to. Moreover, Caldwell never advised Lt. Geary or our law firm of such.”

Toscano added that there is also valid reason to believe that Hayducka and Bongiorno have “known one another for years prior to the Hearing Officer’s hiring by Caldwell” and that this was never revealed to his law office.

“If we ascertain with 100-percent certainty that the above is in fact the case, it is beyond cavil to state that the Hearing Officer had a clear conflict/appearance of impropriety, and should have never accepted this assignment from Caldwell,” said Toscano. “Additionally, if Mr. Bongiorno was the person responsible for recommending the Hearing Officer in this case, we consider same to be reprehensible, and will deal with that issue in Lt. Geary’s soon-to-be-filed civil lawsuit.”

Hayducka’s final analysis of evidence and summary stated the following:

“A commanding officer with approximately 14 years of service should understand that a request or direct order must be followed. Ironically, Lt. Geary acknowledges in his testimony he must comply with the direction of the Chief of Police regardless if it is an order. He simply failed to do so. There was never an explanation or respectful request to turn the items over in a different manner. There was clear defiance and he demanded that they come to his vehicle to get the items. In my opinion, Lt. Geary was clearly insubordinate.”

Attempts to reach out to Bongiorno for comment have not yet been returned. Caldwell Mayor Ann Dassing also declined to comment. 

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