On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Cumberland County.
King, Brody and Landau. The opinion of the court was delivered by Brody, J.A.D.
[266 NJSuper Page 524] We granted the State leave to appeal from an order suppressing incriminating oral statements that defendant, then a Millville police sergeant, made while being questioned by a Millville police
lieutenant. The order also suppressed defendant's later repetition of the statements to the Millville police chief. The questioning related to events which form the factual basis for the charges in the present indictment.*fn1 The Judge found that the statements were inadmissible because they were given during a custodial interrogation at which the Miranda warnings had not been administered. We disagree and reverse.
On January 31, 1992, while on routine patrol in his police car, defendant signalled a vehicle to stop that was being operated by Tyrone Blake, the subject of outstanding arrest warrants. Blake did not stop and defendant gave chase. The chase ended when Blake's vehicle crashed into a fence. Blake then exited the vehicle and fled on foot. He was soon caught and arrested. Sometime after Blake had left his vehicle, defendant's service revolver discharged.
Defendant filed a report in which he stated that after Blake left his vehicle he struck defendant in the face, knocking him to the ground. Defendant claimed that as he was falling he drew the weapon, which accidentally discharged when he hit the ground. Consistent with his report, defendant made a formal complaint against Blake charging him with assault. Defendant repeated that story to Lt. Ronald Harvey, who routinely conducts an investigation whenever a police officer discharges a weapon while on duty.
Blake, however, thereafter told Lt. Harvey a different story. According to Blake, defendant had drawn and fired his weapon during the foot chase. Blake submitted to a polygraph test, which
indicated that he was telling the truth. Lt. Harvey decided to interview defendant and confront him with Blake's story and the results of the polygraph test.
On February 6, at about 11:30 p.m., defendant showed up at police headquarters to begin his tour of duty. His first task as sergeant was to brief the officers on the shift. Lt. Harvey asked defendant to come to his office after the briefing. Defendant and Lt. Harvey were then alone together for about an hour. The transcript of Lt. Harvey's testimony at the suppression hearing is the only evidence of what happened and what was said at this meeting. No audio tape of the interview was made and defendant did not testify at the hearing.
Lt. Harvey testified that as he saw it, he was conducting a departmental investigation and not a criminal investigation. He acknowledged that he did not administer the Miranda warnings. However, at no time during the interview did he threaten defendant with loss of his job, tell defendant he had to stay in the room, or relieve defendant of his weapon. He simply confronted defendant with Blake's story and the result of Blake's polygraph test. Defendant then admitted to him that Blake's story was true.
Lt. Harvey testified that at some point during the interview, he did not recall whether it was before or after the admission, defendant asked whether "he was [was] going to lose his job, was he going to be demoted or anything like that and I -- and I recall telling him that that's not my decision to make, that the chief or the director of public safety could only make that decision." In the February 10 report of his investigation, Lt. Harvey recommended that defendant receive a demotion and a thirty-day suspension.
There is no doubt, as the trial Judge found, that Lt. Harvey was compassionate with defendant. Indeed, during the questioning Lt. Harvey offered to arrange psychological counselling for defendant, but defendant believed that the chief would not agree. Lt. Harvey told defendant to take off the rest of the night ...