Maplewoodian by Joe Strupp

Township’s Goodbye Kiss to Police Chief


The retirement agreement with former Maplewood Police Chief Robert Cimino, which includes a golden parachute of nearly $280,000 through the end of 2018, might make some forget that he was forced out for not doing his job properly.

The agreement, revealed in a lengthy announcement Wednesday from the Township, indicates Cimino will get a $280,000 payout, which includes $49,479 in accumulated sick, vacation and personal days required by law for any departing employee.

But he will also receive another $230,000 in what is described only as two “payments” of $115,000 each – the first by January 2018 and the second by January 2019.

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On top of that, the Township will pay Cimino’s attorney fees to the tune of $15,000.

But the most surprising part of the deal may be what amounts to two letters of recommendation.

As the Township release states:

Mr. Cimino will receive a letter stating that he served with dedication and professionalism for 36 years.

Mr. Cimino will receive a letter acknowledging he had no formal disciplinary actions sustained against him during his tenure as Chief of Police.

Why not a parade down Valley Street and a bouquet of roses, too?

Did they forget that less than two months ago the TC gave him a vote of no confidence, requested his resignation and placed him on administrative leave? All because he and several police officers were found to have acted improperly the night of the 2016 Township fireworks in reaction to large crowds and some unruly residents.

No formal disciplinary action? Served with dedication and professionalism? How can the Township say that about someone they wanted out of the job as soon as possible? Someone they voted no confidence in? 

Regardless of whether you believe the chief should be ousted or if his actions that night amount to a fireable offense, the TC’s previous pronouncements and criticism make this genuflecting deal tough to take.

These actions followed demands by many in the community that Cimino be dismissed in the wake of revelations of improper police abuse on July 5, 2016. Those included officers kicking at least one teen in the head and punching others.

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 soon.

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 2017 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.

Just days later, on Aug. 1, the Township Committee called for Cimino to resign, held a unanimous vote of no confidence in him, and placed him and former police captain Joshua Cummis on paid leave.

Township Committee member Frank McGehee said that night that the events of July 5 were “sickening and disgusting,” later adding that “The abuse of power and poor leadership” on display that night led to the problems.

Mayor Vic Deluca proclaimed the TC “appalled by decisions made by the leadership of our police department.”

How you go from that to such glowing letters of support is hard to understand.

To be fair, the $280,000 payout is not a complete surprise given the time and money it would take to formally remove Cimino. As we reported weeks ago, state law can make it difficult, expensive and time-consuming to force the chief out if he does not want to go.

If Cimino refused to resign and the Township wanted him to leave, it would be required to hold a hearing either before the Township Committee or an independent hearing officer, William Kearns, general counsel for the New Jersey League of Municipalities, told me last month.

If Cimino objected to the findings and decision, he could appeal it to the 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 more than $280,000.

The Township release did admit as much, stating that: "faced with the prospects of extended and costly administrative and legal proceedings regarding this matter and a legal assessment which concluded there would be little likelihood of success in such proceedings, the Township Committee has reluctantly deemed it to be in the best interest of the Township to enter into this settlement. The settlement will successfully achieve the Township Committee’s overriding goal of not having Mr. Cimino return to his post as chief of the Maplewood Police Department."

It also noted that a previous investigation by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office found no cause for action against Cimino, which apparently tied the township’s hands:

As result of the Essex County Prosecutor's investigation and findings, the Township is legally precluded from issuing any discipline to Mr. Cimino regarding the events of July 5, 2016. Therefore, a settlement with Mr. Cimino, as recommended and approved by the Township's legal counsel, is the best option to ensure that Mr. Cimino no longer serves as the Chief of the Maplewood Police Department.

Add to that the recent lawsuit by former Police Captain Joshua Cummis, who was suspended along with Cimino and recently retired. His suit claims he was not given due process and could well cost the Township more cash. 

So one might say if you want to criticize anyone for the costly payout, look to the state and county officials and policies.

But to agree to provide letters of recommendation that paint Cimino as an outstanding employee and someone who received no disciplinary action is the height of hypocrisy.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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