Just over 400 law enforcement officers were fired, demoted, or suspended for five days or longer last year for misconduct, according to a new report. That's up 5% from the year before. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)
Joshua Padilla had sex with a minor in Pennsylvania, recorded it, and posted the video online. Bruce Gomola gunned down an employee of a urology practice in a fit of anger over his father’s appointment. John DeTulio was driving drunk and speeding when he hit an elderly pedestrian, killing him.
That might seem like a list of most-wanted criminals. Instead, the three were law enforcement officers in New Jersey — at least until their crimes cost them their jobs.
They were among 404 officers who faced major discipline last year, according to a new report released Wednesday by the state Attorney General’s Office. There are more than 31,000 police officers statewide.
In the second full year of reporting since former Attorney General Gurbir Grewal first mandated wider disclosure of major discipline — that amounts to five days or longer — the number of officers who were fired, demoted, or suspended for misconduct climbed 5% from the 384 cases of major discipline levied in 2021, the data shows.
Attorney General Matt Platkin said the 196-page report, along with a new law requiring police to be licensed, shows his office’s commitment to transparency and accountability in policing.
“We know that achieving greater public safety in New Jersey requires greater public trust,” Platkin said in a statement. “By embracing greater transparency, the vast majority of New Jersey’s law enforcement officers who serve with honor, professionalism, and courage are better able to carry out their duties more effectively and safely in service to the people of our state.”
But it still falls short of true transparency, said Jason Williams, a Montclair State University criminal justice professor.
The report barely provides “surface-level detail” and lacks any data on race, ethnicity, gender identity, age, and the length of time an officer has been on the force, he noted. That allows the public only to quantify disciplinary incidents rather than gain insight into how, when, and why officers are disciplined, he added.
“Context matters. Police malpractice happens very often within these very messy, complex contexts, so we need more information about that,” Williams said. “It’s not enough just to say, ‘OK, this person was brought in, we charged him, and he was suspended this many days.’ It’s not enough. It’s not going to do much at all.”
Attorney CJ Griffin, a transparency crusader, agreed that true transparency will come only when police release the disciplinary records themselves, rather than an annual summary of carefully worded descriptions. Lawmakers have long failed to act on a stalled bill that would make police disciplinary records public.
Wednesday’s report also fails to include misconduct complaints that weren’t sustained, and the public deserves to see those, given that investigators can cut corners or complaints can get administratively dismissed for various reasons, she added.
“Only about a third of complaints are sustained, and just because they aren’t sustained doesn’t mean the officer didn’t do what the allegation was. It’s a finding that the evidence didn’t prove one way or another,” Griffin said. “We need to see what the evidence was and whether the investigation was thorough or who wasn’t interviewed or who was interviewed and that sort of thing.”
Griffin represents the New Jersey Monitor in some legal matters.
Most misconduct by corrections officers
Corrections agencies continued to log the most transgressions, accounting for 162, or 40%, of all major discipline cases last year, according to the report.
State Department of Corrections officers racked up more than twice as many major discipline offenses as any other agency, with 66 officers listed in the report.
At least four were fired for violating the state’s vaccine mandate, while others were disciplined for exhausting sick time, sleeping on the job, gambling, positive drug tests, using excessive force, having inappropriate relationships with incarcerated people, and other offenses. DeTulio was a senior correctional officer at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton when he got in the off-duty fatal wreck that got him arrested and fired.
Camden County Department of Corrections came in second statewide, with 30 major discipline incidents. County and state corrections agencies represented four of the top 10 agencies with the most misconduct. Newark, Jersey City, Atlantic City, and Hoboken were the only municipal agencies to make the top 10.
By county, most of the major discipline cases occurred in Essex, Camden, and Hudson counties, with 111, 100, and 86 cases reported, respectively. Hunterdon County listed just one offender, while Warren reported three and Salem, six.
The cases documented involve more individual officers than the previous year (363 in 2022, compared to 349 in 2021) and more departments (137 in 2022, up from 129 the year before).
About 415 agencies reported no major discipline.
Some cases were downright alarming.
Padilla, who had been a deputy in the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Office, pleaded guilty in 2021 to seeking sex from an undercover officer posing as a teenage girl. Padilla caught investigators’ attention in 2019 after posting video online of his illegal sex acts with a 17-year-old girl.
Gomola was a corrections officer at the Burlington County Jail when he shot and killed an employee of a Mount Laurel medical clinic and wounded a patient in 2020; he was found guilty in February. John Formisano was a Newark cop when he gunned down his estranged wife in 2019; he was fired and found guilty of murder.
Many officers were disciplined for driving drunk, or helping other officers suspected of drunk driving hide their offenses, the report shows.
Attendance issues were a common offense, too, with chronic lateness and absenteeism driving some discipline.
Some officers were punished for unsanctioned police chases, theft, lying, losing their guns or threatening others with them, drinking on duty, sexual harassment, and domestic violence.
Others were disciplined for negligence that endangered others.
Essex County Corrections Officer Andre Jones, for example, was suspended for seven days after he left his department-issued, unloaded gun in a child’s bedroom on a bed, according to the report. Little Ferry Sgt. Demetrius Dacres was suspended six days for neglect of duty when he failed to act after a woman reported her ex-husband as missing and suicidal. Two days later, the man was found dead on a river bank, according to the report.
Context matters. Police malpractice happens very often within these very messy, complex contexts, so we need more information about that. – Jason Williams, Montclair State University professor
Context matters. Police malpractice happens very often within these very messy, complex contexts, so we need more information about that.
– Jason Williams, Montclair State University professor
In many cases, officers improperly used departmental computers to snoop on people or for personal gain. Cinnaminson Police Officer Kevin Bohn was fired in June after investigators determined he used a restricted law enforcement database to research a woman he met on Only Fans, a social media website often used by sex workers, and then fabricated phony records to hide his illicit research, according to the report.
Some discipline arose from workplace hijinks.
In Lavallette, Officer Victoria Lamb was suspended for 30 days for conduct subversive of good order when she placed two “fart bags” in a locker room trash bin at the police department, which created a “noxious odor … causing distress” to colleagues. And in Hudson County, Correctional Officer Carlos Medina was suspended 60 days for insubordination after he admitted he made sexual sounds and breathed heavily on a prank call to another officer, according to the report.
More change coming
In November, Platkin ordered law enforcement agencies to expand the misconduct data they publicly report to include all cases of sustained misconduct involving lying; discrimination/bias; excessive force; domestic violence; filing a false report; intentional improper searches, seizures or arrests; and intentional mishandling or destroying of evidence.
That directive, though, didn’t require that reporting for 2022, so that will begin next year.
A public database where users can look up individual law enforcement agencies and officers is available online here.
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