On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Monmouth County, Municipal Appeal No. 09-031.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Parrillo and Ashrafi.
Defendant Crofton Hardester appeals from the judgment of the Law Division finding him guilty on de novo review of obstruction of a governmental function in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1, a disorderly persons offense. We affirm.
The charge arose out of a late-night confrontation between defendant, who was a security guard, and two off-duty police officers. There was conflicting testimony at trial in the municipal court between defendant and the five officers who testified for the prosecution. We summarize the facts, acknowledging each side's version without detail that is unnecessary for our review.
On September 3, 2006, defendant was working as a uniformed security guard at Pier Village, a combination retail commercial and residential complex in Long Branch, New Jersey. At about 1:00 a.m., he saw three men inside one of the buildings and approached them to investigate. The men were a resident of a second-floor apartment and two of his friends, Detective Juan Vasquez of the Long Branch Police Department and Sergeant John Riley of the Red Bank Police Department. The two police officers had accompanied their friend to his building from a party at a nearby restaurant to look for his lost house key. Sergeant Riley had "popped the lock" of the building to get into the lobby.
In the lobby, a verbal argument ensued, with defendant challenging the men's presence and Riley allegedly challenging defendant's authority to question them because they were police officers. Each side alleged that the other poked his finger and engaged in similar aggressive conduct in the course of the confrontation. Defendant called the Long Branch Police Department for assistance.
Sergeant Frank Morey soon arrived followed by Detective Brendan Cahill. Defendant and the two off-duty police officers were out on the street. As Morey was stepping out of his vehicle, defendant immediately approached him and said that he had been assaulted and wanted the two officers arrested and charged. Morey wanted to speak to the officers and first find out whether they were on duty or not. Defendant, however, would not heed his request that he step aside and allow Morey to talk to Riley and Vasquez.
Morey testified at the trial:
I said, "Sir, please, you know, just stay over there. I['m] going to talk to the detectives first." And he didn't - he just went, "I want these guys arrested. You're not going to listen to my story." I said, "That's not it, sir."
According to Morey, defendant insisted that the officers be arrested for breaking into the building. Morey tried to separate defendant from the others so that he could speak to the officers, but defendant followed him each time he tried to approach the officers. Morey testified that he told defendant "probably at least 10 times" to stand back while he spoke to the other officers but defendant continued on his "tirade." Morey testified further:
I advised him probably 25 times. . . .
[I]t was to the point where I walked and said, "Sir, could you ...