PATERSON, NJ – Police Chief James Wittig has decided not to suspend the city police lieutenant arrested on Saturday on charges he pointed his gun at his girlfriend, officials said.
Lt. Patrick Papagni, Wittig’s former chief of staff, will be placed on desk duty, said Deputy Chief Danny Nichols. Papagni also had to turn in his gun, which is standard procedure when officers are charged in domestic violence cases, Nichols said.
In the past when city police officers were charged with domestic violence, they had been suspended without pay about half the time and put on paid desk duty the other half, depending on the facts of the particular case, Nichols said.
When asked what facts provided the basis for not suspending Papagni, Nichols said he was not involved in making that determination. “The chief made the decision,’’ said Nichols. Wittig was on vacation yesterday and not available for comment
Papagni was charged with fourth degree aggravated assault with a weapon under a statute that covers cases in which the accused “knowingly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life points a firearm…at in the direction of another whether or not the actor believes it to be loaded.’’
City council members expressed concern that several days passed before they received word of Papagni’s arrest. Four members had no knowledge of the case until informed about it by PatersonPress.com.
Councilman William McKoy, chairman of the public safety committee, said he had requested a report from Police Director Glenn Brown on the facts of the case.
“This is a highly public case and a serious charge,’’ McKoy said. “We need to make sure that all the appropriate measures are being taken.”
Brown did not return a phone message seeking his comment on the case.
According to a press release issued by the Paterson Police Department, Papagni was arrested at about 1 am on Saturday when officers responded to a call of domestic violence at a home on Maitland Avenue. The victim’s name was not released, but authorities said she had a “dating relationship” with Papagni.
After previously serving as Wittig’s chief of staff, Papagni now works in “Special Events and Extra Duty Assignments,’’ according to the press release. He collected $5,350 in overtime during the recent floods, making his sixth top earner after the mayor and two department heads returned their money. Papagni’s salary is more than $130,000.
The case is being reviewed by the city police department’s Internal Affairs Division. Nichols also said the case has been referred to the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office to review whether the appropriate charges were filed against Papagni.
City officials said that might create a conflict because Papagni’s former wife, Maura, is an investigator in the prosecutor’s office and his former brother-in-law, J. Patrick McCabe, is an assistant prosecutor.
First Assistant Passaic County Prosecutor Robert Holmsen said special measures are taken with investigations that involve employees’ relatives or other potential conflicts. The employees are “walled off” from the investigation, Holmsen said. After all the facts are examined, the information is presented to the Attorney General’s Office to determine whether the state should take over the case because of the possible conflict, Holmsen said.
Holmsen declined to comment on whether a fourth degree aggravated assault charged seemed appropriate in the Papagni case, saying he had not yet reviewed the investigation reports.
Papagni’s connections to the prosecutor’s office are well-know within Paterson and might create the perception among some residents that he will receive preferential treatment, McKoy said.
McKoy also said he was concerned that Wittig made the decision on whether Papagni should be suspended, considering that Papagni was considered part of the chief’s “inner circle.’’ McKoy said he expected Brown’s report to the city council to address that issue.
In the future, McKoy said he asked Brown to alert the city council when Paterson police officers are charged with crimes.
“This case was significant enough to warrant more speedy notification,’’ said McKoy.