On appeal from a Final Decision of the Division of State Police, No. 112004-60.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Wefing, Grall and LeWinn.
Joseph H. Castro appeals from a Final Decision of the Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police denying his application to serve as a police officer with the William Paterson State University Campus Police. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.
In September 2002, Castro began working for William Paterson State University as a security guard and about a year later was promoted to security officer. In September 2004, he entered Passaic County's police academy and successfully completed the program. He graduated in January 2005, ranking eleventh in a class of sixty-six students and applied to become a member of the campus police force.
Prior to entering the police academy, Castro filled out a Personal Questionnaire for Background Investigation. One of the questions on the form inquired whether Castro had ever been arrested; the form provided one line to answer that question. On that one line, he entered that he had been arrested in New York on January 21, 1999, and that the charges had been dismissed. He attached to the form an addendum in which he listed two other arrests, both in New York--one on February 12, 2000, and one on July 26, 2001.
Detective Sergeant Susan Kamish of the New Jersey State Police was assigned to conduct a background investigation of Castro. As part of that investigation, she learned the circumstances of each of these arrests.
Castro was married at the time of the first arrest in 1999, and his wife told him that one of her co-workers was making passes at her at work. Castro drove to New York to the offices where his wife worked, intending to confront that co-worker, but he declined to meet with Castro. Castro returned to the garage where he had parked his car and found the police waiting; they told him they were responding to a call that he had threatened to beat the co-worker. They asked if they could search his car and he agreed; they found a baseball bat in the trunk. Castro was charged with criminal possession of a weapon and menacing. He appeared in court and entered a plea of guilty in return for a conditional discharge; the charges were to be dismissed if he successfully completed a probationary term, which he did.
During the proceedings below, Castro provided a further explanation. He said that he plays baseball every summer and that he leaves the bat in the car, even during the off-season.
Castro's second arrest was approximately one year later. Following a ball game, he and some of his teammates went to a bar in New York City and a fight erupted. He said he was "trying to basically pick people off of [his] friends who were at the bottom of the pile." Castro was hit on the head with a bottle and began to bleed profusely. He said all the participants were thrown out of the bar and that the altercation continued in the street. The police arrived and arrested everyone. He again pled guilty in return for a sentence of six months on probation, at the end of which the charges were to be dismissed. Castro successfully completed this probationary term.
His third arrest was approximately eighteen months later. He was charged with driving under the influence and reckless endangerment. He pled guilty, had his license suspended for a period and attended a compulsory program on drinking and driving.
Sergeant Kamish's investigation also showed that Castro had been involved in a series of disputes with the person who rented a house from him. Members of the Wayne police department had responded four times to this house, twice to calls from the tenant, twice to calls from Castro.
Sergeant Kamish submitted her report and in June 2005, the Superintendent wrote to Castro that he was denying his application to join the university police because "[t]he background investigation conducted by the New Jersey State Police has revealed you lack the character and integrity necessary for the designated ...