Police Chief Charged With More Than 130 Violations Has Collected Over $115,000 Without Working A Day This Year
from the the-system's-flaws-exposed-on-a-grand-scale dept
Law enforcement officials are right: crime doesn't pay. Or at least, it doesn't pay enough to get you back out of bed and pounding the pavement. Law enforcement is where the real money is at and best of all, you can be an (allegedly) amoral jerk and still rake in a nice salary without leaving the house… for nine straight months.
Irvington Police Chief Michael Chase hasn’t worked a single day in the past nine months, but a series of legal fits and starts has allowed the town’s suspended top cop to take home roughly $115,000 so far this year, leading to a state investigation, officials said.Chase is scheduled to make $154,272 this year and he's collected three-fourths of that from the sidelines. Why? Because his lawyer has filed for extension after extension, which have prevented disciplinary hearings from taking place -- something that should have happened within 30-45 days according to state guidelines. Chase's lawyer is definitely working harder than Chase, digging himself out from under the "thousands of pages of documents" that 130+ violations bring with them.
Chase was suspended in December 2012 after an investigation by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office accused him of quashing a probe into alleged misconduct by his police officer nephew and charged him with failing to properly supervise his department’s Internal Affairs Unit. Accused of more than 130 violations of Attorney General’s Office guidelines and police department rules, Chase was suspended — with pay — indefinitely.
In addition to helping his nephew escape misconduct charges, Chase has racked up a variety of violations over the past several years. Here's a few highlights:
[C]hase has been sued by female officers six times since 1998. Court records show the complaints largely dealt with sexual harassment and discriminationBelieve it or not, Chase is not being charged with any criminal activity. In fact, the state prosecutors declined to bring any charges against Chase and dumped it all into Police Director Joseph Santiago's lap. Santiago has said Chase "could" lose his job and that suspending him with pay does not violate state guidelines. (No criminal charges, no loss of pay.)
[A]fter a fatal 2009 police pursuit, Chase "refused to fill out a pursuit form as mandated by the Attorney General Guidelines … and stated that he was not involved in the pursuit." As the internal affairs commander, [Andrea] Koontz ordered detectives to investigate Chase, and claims she uncovered video and audio recordings that confirmed his involvement, according to the suit. [This is in addition to her harrassment suit against Chase.]
The prosecutor’s report… found Irvington’s internal affairs unit failed to properly investigate 113 citizen complaints against officers between April and August of last year .
[Chase] ordered on-duty detectives to take his wife's car to be repaired…
The report also suggested Chase used the Internal Affairs Unit to unfairly punish officers he had disagreements with.
Not only has the legal process dragged on for nine months, but Chase's representation has changed since he was first suspended back in December of 2012. Chase was originally represented by criminal defense attorney Steven Altman, best known for defending Dharun Ravi in the Tyler Clementi cyber-bullying case. Nine months later, he's represented Joseph Donahue, a criminal defense attorney who is one of several "covered" lawyers listed by the New Jersey Policemen's Benevolent Association. Altman's name isn't on the list, which presumably means Chase switched over to a NJPBA-approved representative in order to avail himself of the association's legal defense fund.
Everything checks out legally and Chase is still facing nothing more than allegations, albeit ones that are both numerous and severe. It's hard to argue his pay should be cut off before he receives his day in court, but it's also hard to justify paying out over $100,000 to someone who hasn't worked since December of last year.
There's a whole lot of imperfect systems meshing here and it has put Police Director Santiago in the unenviable position of pissing off the citizens in his jurisdiction. He can't cut off the paychecks without criminal charges and he can't allow Chase to return to work because the allegations are too severe. And you can't blame his defense attorney for wanting to provide the best service for his client, even if wading through thousands of documents is indistinguishable from a stalling tactic when viewed from the outside. What should be of concern is the fact that these abuses went on for so long without intermediate disciplinary measures being enacted, other than a court awarding a former police sergeant $1.4 million and charging Chase with discrimination back in 2007. The fact that the department's Internal Affairs office was (allegedly) compliant means there will need to be some serious housecleaning if the charges stick.
Put it all together and the only one who seems to be making out alright in this deal is the one charged with 100+ violations. That certainly seems wrong but there's really no better option, at least not if you want to continue treating the accused as "innocent until proven guilty." About all anyone can do is hope that if Chase is found guilty, the end result is more than some light wrist slaps and the unimpeded collection of paychecks. Without an effective deterrent, more people in his position are going to realize that the system, while ostensibly working as it should, is easily exploited.