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In re Terry

August 22, 2007

IN THE MATTER OF JEFFREY M. TERRY, APPELLANT.


On appeal from a Final Administrative Decision of the Merit System Board, DOP Docket No. 2005-2949.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted August 14, 2007

Before Judges Sabatino and Baxter.

Jeffrey M. Terry appeals from a May 25, 2006 decision of the Merit System Board (Board) concluding that he is psychologically unfit and therefore ineligible to effectively perform the duties of a police officer in the Town of Morristown. In particular, he argues that in reaching that conclusion, the Board erred in two respects: (1) by relying upon the expert opinion of a psychologist whose report was tainted by his acceptance of the conclusions of an unlicensed psychologist, and (2) by declining to adopt the opinion of Terry's own psychological examiner, Bart Rossi, Ph. D., who found Terry psychologically fit. We disagree with Terry's arguments, and affirm.

I.

Terry applied for the position of police officer with the Morristown Police Department, and on December 17, 2004, was notified that he was eligible for employment, conditioned upon "successful completion of physical and psychological evaluations." The chief of police directed Terry to undergo a psychological evaluation at the Institute for Forensic Psychology (Institute). The Institute rendered a report on January 10, 2005, concluding that Terry "does not possess the psychological characteristics deemed necessary to perform the duties of the position sought and is not considered to be psychologically suited to [such] position."

Thereafter, Terry filed a complaint with the Department of Law and Public Safety, Division of Consumer Affairs (Division), which licenses psychologists, alleging that Mathew Guller, Ph. D. had performed a psychological examination upon him even though Dr. Guller lacked a plenary license. The Division conducted an investigation, and notified the Board that Dr. Guller did not have a plenary license at the time he examined Terry.

Once the Board learned of Dr. Guller's lack of licensure, it directed Terry to participate in an independent evaluation by a licensed psychologist, Robert Kanen, Psy. D. On January 7, 2006, Dr. Kanen conducted a clinical interview of Terry, administered eight psychological tests, and reviewed all of the applicable documents, including Dr. Guller's report of January 10, 2005. Based upon the clinical interview, the eight psychological tests he administered and his review of the pertinent documents, Dr. Kanen issued a report on January 7, 2006 concluding that Terry was "psychologically unsuitable to perform the duties of a police officer."

In reaching his conclusion, Dr. Kanen in part relied upon a June 30, 2004 memorandum to Morristown Police Chief Peter Demnitz from Lt. Mark Meehan, in which Meehan recommended that Terry not be hired. Meehan reported that Terry had been fired from two prior jobs and had admitted to being "too physical" with people in the past. Meehan also described a written reprimand issued to Terry while he served as a police dispatcher after Terry intentionally disobeyed the directions of the watch commander not to contact the airport tower during an emergency. Meehan also noted that "Terry admits to being head strong and physical in the past" and admits "he has made comments to arresting officers about 'tuning people up' but explained that he was [just] trying to fit in." Meehan's June 30, 2004 memo concluded with the remark that "Terry has the propensity to be abusive and a bully."

Dr. Kanen's January 7, 2006 report also analyzed Terry's responses to the Rorschach Inkblot test. Dr. Kanen opined that those responses were "consistent with individuals" who "have great difficulty regulating their emotions." Consequently, their resulting behavior "may be grossly inappropriate for what the situation warrants." Dr. Kanen commented that "when faced with an emotionally charged, unstructured situation, [Terry] is prone to become very self-centered, do what he wants to do, and to have difficulty regulating his emotions."

Dr. Kanen explained his findings in his report:

This examiner concurs with the findings of the Institute for Forensic Psychology that Mr. Terry lacks credibility regarding many issues in his background. This evaluator takes very seriously the concerns expressed by members of the Morristown Police Department regarding Mr. Terry's capacity to follow orders, statement[s] about tuning people up, statements about speaking skills being rough in the past, and past work-performance problems.

He admits he wants the job partly because of the excitement. However, testing and social history suggest that when faced with an intense, emotionally charged situation, he may have difficulty effectively modulating his emotions and the resulting response may be grossly inappropriate for what the situation warrants. Mr. Terry summed it up himself by reporting that in the heat of an emergency, his response was a "gut reaction." Although he knew he was disobeying an order, he did what he wanted to do. This is consistent with the finding that he is a self-centered individual who overrates ...


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