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State v. Otto

October 21, 2008

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
EUGENE OTTO, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Municipal Appeal No. 2007-036.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued October 6, 2008

Before Judges Carchman and Sabatino.

After a trial on downgraded criminal charges that had been specially remanded to the municipal court, defendant Eugene Otto was convicted of harassment, N.J.S.A. 2C:33-4(b), a petty disorderly persons offense. The Law Division sustained the conviction on de novo review, and upheld various fines and penalties that defendant had been ordered to pay.

Defendant now appeals. His sole argument is that the proofs at trial were insufficient to establish that he possessed the requisite statutory purpose to harass the victim. We disagree, and affirm the judgment.

The following facts and circumstances are germane to our analysis. Defendant was employed as a police officer in Irvington for more than sixteen years. In the spring of 2006, he was the subject of an internal investigation that led to his discharge. One of the Irvington officers who participated in that investigation was Detective Sergeant Amanda Koontz. Sergeant Koontz specifically recommended that defendant be terminated from employment, a recommendation that her superiors accepted.*fn1

On June 12, 2006, Sergeant Koontz informed defendant that he was being discharged. She then escorted defendant to the police department's juvenile bureau, where he was to gather and remove his belongings. They were accompanied by Detective Ramon Melenka, also a member of the department's internal affairs unit, and Officer Elijah James, a police union representative.

In the course of heading back to his office, defendant stopped at his car. He removed from the car a box, as well as what the witnesses all described as a bottle of green liquid. Defendant then went into the juvenile building and began to empty out his desk. Sergeant Koontz stood nearby, along with Officer James. Meanwhile, Detective Melenka briefly left the area to go look for additional boxes.

While clearing out his desk, defendant sprinkled green liquid out of the bottle onto one of Sergeant Koontz's feet. At the time Sergeant Koontz was wearing open-toed sandals. The sprinkling was observed by Officer James, who specifically noticed that Sergeant Koontz's toes had become wet. The liquid had a strong odor.

According to Sergeant Koontz, defendant tossed the green liquid on her several times, even though she asked him to stop. In the meantime, her foot became "soaked." She started to feel a "burning" or "tingling" sensation. She became fearful that the liquid contained some kind of toxic chemical.

Sergeant Koontz then left the room, went to a cooler, and washed off her foot with clean water. She dried off with a paper towel and then returned to the area around defendant's desk.

By this point, Detective Melenka returned to the scene, and "smelled something that just wasn't there before." Sergeant Koontz informed him that defendant had sprinkled green liquid on her foot. She then told defendant, in the presence of the other two officers, that she was going to press charges against him. The sergeant then reached into defendant's box and removed the bottle of green liquid, declaring that she was taking it as evidence.

After Sergeant Koontz grabbed the bottle, defendant lunged towards her. He began repeatedly yelling, "give me my bottle back. I want my bottle back." Sergeant Koontz backed away from him, until she was up against a wall. Defendant continued to charge at her, "like [he was making] a ...


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