SPARTA, NJ – A notice of civil tort claim has been filed against the Sparta Township on behalf of Karen Gitelman. Through her attorney Joseph S. Murphy, Gitelman charges the Sparta police with Malicious Prosecution, claiming the Sparta police department’s posting of details about an underage drinking party at her West Gate home caused her distress and financial loss.
The notice filed on July 21 states they are intending to sue Sparta Township for $500,000. The claim alleges the Sparta Police Department conducted “a trial before the public” by posting a press release about the incident on facebook.
Karen and Daniel Gitleman were charged with endangering the welfare of a child, obstructing the administration of law and hosting an underage drinking party. The charges stemmed from incidents that happened on April 23, 2016.
Residents of the neighborhood around Valley View Trail called police to report mailboxes and light posts being vandalized. One neighbor also called for medical assistance when one of the juveniles ran into a mailbox and injured himself, police reported.
According to police, while waiting for help to arrive the neighbor said Karen and Daniel Gitelman came and took the injured boy back to their home on Westgate Drive over the protests of the neighbor.
When Sparta police officers arrived with an ambulance, the neighbor told them what happened. When the police went to the Gitelmans’ home, they were told by Daniel Gitelman that the injured boy had been picked up by his mother. Before the first responders left the scene, Daniel Gitleman came back and told the officers that the boy was on their back porch, police reported.
Police reported the victim was found “unconscious lying face down with blood coming out of his nose with scrapes on his forehead.” The victim was identified as a 15-year-old Sparta High School sophomore, was taken to the hospital where he was treated for alcohol poisoning.
The Gitelmans were charged and subsequently entered into Pre-Trial Intervention, allowing charges to be suspended for a year. Judge William J. McGovern III set the requirement of their PTI; 50 hours of community service, $200 in fines and fees and periodic check-ins with the Sussex county probation department. If they fulfill the requirements, the charges will be resolved.
According to Assistant Prosecutor Greg Muller, accepting admission into PTI does not mean there a presumption of guilt or innocence. It does, however, “present a large hurdle” to overcome in a civil case.
This concept was considered in an appellate decision by Judges Graves, Weissbard and Payne, argued on January 23, 2007 in Morris County. In the matter of Dr Gary Safier v Walder, Sondak & Brogan, P.C., et al. the plaintiff, Safier, sued his attorney, claiming “legal malpractice on the part of Walder”, his attorney. Safier alleged malpractice stemmed from Walder having advised him to enter PTI without fully apprising him that he would then be disqualified being able to pursue a civil case.
The findings in the case stated in part, “Nonetheless … we regard as incredible Dr. Safier’s claim that [his attorney] should have advised against entry into PTI and should have risked a criminal trial…, merely to preserve civil causes of action of questionable merit.”
PTI is a state program that offers certain defendants the opportunity to have charges suspended and ultimately dismissed, provided they comply with conditions specified by the court. The New Jersey Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman recently issued a memo of Uniform Guidelines on the Pretrial Intervention Program to include the most recent legislation on the topic.
The March 1, 2016 document states, “PTI provides defendants with an alternative to traditional prosecution. The PTI program is designed for first-time offenders who will benefit from early rehabilitative services to deter future criminal conduct.”
It further states “any defendant charged with an indictable offense can apply to PTI” but there are criteria for eligibility and ineligibility. None of the new restrictions in the legislation is relevant to the Gitelman case as they deal with matters of domestic violence, crimes of first or second degree or prior convictions.
Muller said New Jersey police departments are required to report elements of an arrest within 48 hours, including names, towns, charges and court date.
"As a matter of township policy, we do not comment on possible pending litigation," said Sparta Township Lt John-Paul Beebe.