On appeal from the Civil Service Commission, Docket Nos. 2008-3260 and 2008-3660.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued January 25, 2011 - Decided
Before Judges Espinosa and Skillman.
Eugene Collins appeals from a final decision of the Civil Service Commission (the Commission) that upheld his removal from his position as a Newark police officer. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.
Collins was hired by the Newark Police Department as a police officer in February 1995. An investigation was initiated by the Department in March 2007 after Officer Samad Washington presented an administrative report to the Office of Professional Responsibility in which he stated that his life had been threatened, that Collins had knowledge of the person who made the threat and refused to submit a report about the threat.
Two Internal Affairs officers, Lieutenants Antonio Domingues and Tijuana Burton, conducted a taped interview of Collins in March 2007. His statements in the interview can be summarized as follows:
Collins stated that a few weeks earlier, a male sitting in a car in Irvington, called out to him by name and said, "I just want to holler at you[.]" Although Collins said that he did not know him, the male said, "You know me, if you was to take time and think about it." When Collins agreed to speak with him, the unknown male said, "What's up with your man Smack?", a reference to Officer Washington. The male then said that there was "a job" that took place involving $85,000 but that only $16,000 of the money was turned in. He stated, "they got to answer for that, [be]cause that's not their money. They got to take that money to drop it off to somebody else." He said further, "Listen, I know where your man be at . . . So, I already know the places where Samad hang out at, you know[.]" The male then mentioned the name of the gym used by Washington, the street where his grandmother lives, and the location of a bar he frequented. Finally, he said, So, it ain't hard, you know, for somebody -- if somebody really wanted to get at him, it ain't hard for somebody to catch him be coming out the gym. It's not hard for somebody to catch him around there, it's not hard for somebody [to] catch out here . . .
[A]ll I'm saying is . . . give this message to your man[.]
Collins recognized the "job" as one he read about in an arrest report approximately two weeks earlier. The arresting officers, who included Washington, had stopped a jeep. There were forty to sixty bottles of narcotics and one or two bags with money. Collins said that each of the two persons arrested told him, while they were being processed, that $85,000 had been in the bag but only $16,000 had been reported as confiscated. One of the arrestees complained that if only $10,000 had been taken, they would have taken a loss "to the game" of the street but that when over 50% of the money was taken, "that's straight robbery." Collins told one of the arrestees that he would look into the matter for him.
Collins spoke to Washington the day after his encounter with the arrestees in the cell block. He told the Internal Affairs officers that Washington's demeanor was of one who "really didn't care." Washington said he was tired of people associating him with "clipping people," that "[s]ometimes you got to not be worried about everything that people say on the street and just - - and just go with the flow."
Collins contacted Washington again after he was approached by the male in Irvington. Collins told the Internal Affairs officers that when they met, Washington asked him to contact the male who had made the threatening remarks, but later sent him text messages saying, "You should put it on paper, you should do the right thing." Collins admitted to the officers that he declined to do so, despite the fact that he considered the information he received to be a "serious" threat to Washington. He explained, "[W]e tried to handle it, our stuff first . . . because I don't trust this Police Department, whatsoever, I really don't."
In May 2007, the Department issued a Preliminary Notice of Disciplinary Action that charged Collins with violations of Department rules and regulations. The charges were based upon his failure to arrest, detain or take appropriate action against the unknown male who approached him and made the threat against Washington, and his failure to report the incident. A Final Notice of Disciplinary Action was later issued, removing him from his position as police officer, effective February 8, 2008.
Collins filed an appeal with the Commission and the matter was transferred to the Office ...