CALDWELL, NJ — A public hearing recently held in Caldwell was the newest development in an ongoing legal battle between the Borough of Caldwell and Lt. Michael Geary, in which Chief of Police James Bongiorno and Detective Sgt. Brad Palatucci testified that Lt. Geary was insubordinate to a direct order related to an incident that occurred in August.
Lt. Geary, who previously filed a notice of intent to sue both the borough and Chief Bongiorno in the summer of 2016 for “acts of discrimination and retaliation” by the chief, was called into the department on Aug. 16 to receive a notice of leave and was advised to turn in his badge, ID and key fob. According to Ryan Carey, an attorney hired by the Borough of Caldwell, Lt. Geary refused on multiple occasions to oblige these orders.
As the lieutenant is the third-ranking member in the Caldwell Police Department, the borough is seeking a 36-hour suspension of the lieutenant as a penalty for being disobedient to the Chief of Police.
“The charges brought against me are absurd and ridiculous to say the least,” said Geary, who added that he believed the charges were brought against him in retaliation to the aforementioned claims.
Over the summer, Geary filed an intent to sue, citing wrongful acts initiated against him by Bongiorno, including psychological damage due to “constant workplace harassment, ethnic slurs, hostile work environment and retaliatory actions,” as well as damage to his personal and professional reputation, according to the lieutenant. (See story HERE.)
Describing the Aug. 16 incident in his opening statement during the hearing, Carey said Lt. Geary indicated that he had the items listed above with him, but that they were “out in his vehicle.” Despite being directed on multiple occasions to retrieve the items from his truck and to bring them to the office, Geary failed to do so, according to Bongiorno.
“He refused on multiple occasions and told the chief that if he wanted the items, the chief would have to retrieve them himself from his truck outside,” said Carey. “Ultimately, the chief had to have the sergeant, who was also present in the room, go down to the lieutenant’s truck to retrieve the materials.”
The defense noted that in addition to being a witness to the described incident, Palatucci was also assigned as the lead Internal Affairs investigator, which the defense argued was a breach of New Jersey Attorney General Guidelines.
Lt. Geary’s attorney, Patrick Toscano, also raised concern that as the charging party in this case, the Borough of Caldwell hired and is paying Hearing Officer Raymond Hayducka.
“If these absurd charges are nonetheless somehow irrationally sustained, that would merely be further proof as to just how one sided, slanted and biased these municipal Internal Affairs Police hearings unfortunately are,” said Toscano. “The West Essex PBA, as well as the entire statewide law enforcement community, deserves far, far better from its governing body and police administration.”
According to Christopher Andrews, State Delegate for West Essex PBA, the PBA fully supports Lt. Geary in respect to these charges. He said the police administration should be ashamed for its handling of the matter and that such a trivial matter has been blown out of proportion, “affecting not only Lt. Geary and his family, but also the members of the police department and the community.”
“I attended the hearing held at the Caldwell Firehouse and would find the whole matter comical if it weren’t truly a travesty of justice,” he said. “The PBA endorses Mr. Patrick Toscano of the Toscano law firm and his expertise in handling the matter. Through his top-notch skills as a lawyer he is able to bring to light the poor execution of the department’s policies and procedures and supervision.”
Caldwell Police Officer Rob Adams, the town representative for the West Essex PBA Local #81, said he was “very pleased with the support that [they] received for the lieutenant” and that he hopes the hearing officer’s final decision is justified.
On behalf of the West Essex PBA, which is made up of six departments, Andrews stated that any review of this testimony would show that it is in retaliation of Lt. Geary’s exercising of his legal rights to file a complaint against the borough.
“Rather than rising above the need to seek ‘tit for tat,’ the police administration colluded to deny Lt. Geary the ability to legitimately defend himself against these ridiculous charges by denying him the legal and appropriate redress afforded to him by failing to abide by the New Jersey Attorney General Guidelines on Internal Affairs,” said Andrews. “This calls into question the police department’s leadership, which should clearly be reviewed by the Caldwell Township’s governing body.”
Geary said his attorney did an amazing job “clearly showing that everything was handled incorrectly and not according to AG guidelines.”
“More importantly, [Toscano] showed how these charges were brought against me in retaliation because of my filing 59 notice of claim,” said Geary. “I would like to thank my fellow officers along with West Essex PBA local #81 for their support.”
Raymond Hayducka, who is also the Chief of Police for South Brunswick, decided to have Lt. Geary and the Borough of Caldwell’s legal representation each submit legal briefings simultaneously. Each party will then have an opportunity to draft a rebuttal.
Hayducka, based on the testimony and factual evidence of those briefings, will decide whether to dismiss the charges or to proceed with the legal process.
TAPinto.net attempted to reach out to Bongiorno for comment following the hearing on Feb. 10 as well as Geary’s initial complaints on Aug. 1, 2016, but was unsuccessful. Caldwell Mayor Ann Dassing also declined to comment.