MAPLEWOOD, NJ - If Maplewood Police Chief Robert Cimino does not resign as the Township Committee (TC) has requested, his forced departure could be a lengthy, involved process, according to one legal expert.
The chief, who has served in the post for 17 years, has yet to offer his resignation after the TC voted unanimously 10 days ago to request he step down voluntarily.
The governing body on Aug. 1 also voted unanimously to place Cimino on a paid 60-day administrative leave and give him a vote of no confidence.
The actions followed demands by many in the community that Cimino be dismissed in the wake of revelations of improper police abuse of some residents on July 5, 2016. Those included kicking at least one teen in the head and punching others.
But some of the strongest objections involved the police “herding” many youngsters toward the Irvington city line, including many who live in Maplewood.
Video and audio of those incidents, which followed that night’s fireworks display, were made public in late July after months of demands for them to be released.
The same week, the police also revealed that six officers had been disciplined for their actions that night, including one who was suspended for 20 days.
Township and police officials have declined to comment on the situation when asked about the next steps.
The township has hired an outside consultant, Hillard Heintze of Chicago, to review the incidents that night and the township’s overall police procedures. That report is expected by the end of September.
Cimino’s attorney, Jeffrey Garrigan of Jersey City, would not say if Cimino planned to resign or fight the request. He said only that his office is seeking more specific explanations for why he was placed on leave and asked to resign.
If Cimino refuses to resign following the 60-day leave and the township wishes him to leave, the township is required to hold a hearing either before the Township Committee or an independent hearing officer, according to William Kearns, general counsel for the New Jersey League of Municipalities.
The TC or the hearing officer would then determine if the claims against Cimino can be sustained and what penalty can be imposed, from suspension to termination, Kearns said.
If Cimino objects to the findings and decision, he could appeal it to the New Jersey Superior Court of Essex County and on through the regular appeals process, possibly all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Such a round of appeals could drag on for years and cost the township thousands.
The chief could also have criminal charges brought against him by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and be removed automatically. But that seems unlikely, especially since the prosecutors office did its own investigation of the July 5 events last year and did not find enough evidence to pursue any criminal prosecution.
Sources indicate that the TC’s decision to call for the resignation and place Cimino on leave stems from more than just the July 5 events. Some dissatisfaction among the rank and file toward the chief has been found in recent years in part due to his failure to hold regular evaluations of some officers and staff in a timely manner.
Police union leaders did not respond to requests for comment, while Cimino also could not be reached.
On the same night that the chief was placed on leave, the TC appointed Capt. Jimmy DeVaul as acting chief and Lt. Albert Sally as acting captain.
Hillard Heintze, senior vice-president of Law Enforcement Consulting Robert Davis, said his firm spent three days in Maplewood last week collecting information and conducting interviews and does not plan to return before presenting its report. But he said they are still investigating by phone and background research.