On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Docket No. L-6182-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Messano and Yannotti.
After the Borough of Cliffside Park (Borough) decided to terminate his employment as an officer in the Cliffside Park Police Department (CPPD), Ellis Haroldson (Haroldson) filed a complaint in the Law Division seeking de novo review of the Borough's action. The trial court found that the charges had been sustained and imposed a six-month suspension. The Borough appeals and Haroldson cross-appeals from the trial court's judgment. We affirm on the appeal and the cross-appeal.
In November 2009, the Borough charged Haroldson with: 1) abuse of his public office; (2) official misconduct; (3) conduct unbecoming a police officer; and (4) violation of the implicit standard of good behavior required of a police officer. The Borough alleged that in the period from October 2007 through July 15, 2009, Haroldson had initiated numerous telephone and personal contacts with Vincent O'Hara (O'Hara) and his wife Rosalie O'Hara (Rosalie) to collect a debt that O'Hara owed to him. According to the complaint, in those contacts, Haroldson had improperly invoked and referred to his status as a police officer in an attempt to secure payment of the debt.
At the hearing, evidence was presented which indicated that Haroldson was friends with Michael Mastromarino (Mastromarino) and his wife Barbara Mastromarino (Barbara), who he knew through his side business installing phones and electronic devices.
Mastromarino was arrested in New York and Pennsylvania for his alleged participation in a scheme selling cadaver parts.
Believing Mastromarino was innocent, Haroldson endeavored to assist Barbara obtain funds for a bail bond in Pennsylvania. Haroldson introduced Barbara to O'Hara because Haroldson knew that O'Hara "lent money." O'Hara's fee for his services as a loan broker was $15,000. Haroldson paid the fee with a check drawn upon his wife's account. O'Hara refused to take steps to obtain the loan until Haroldson's check cleared, so Haroldson borrowed additional money and gave O'Hara $15,000 in cash.
O'Hara returned one of the $15,000 payments, after Haroldson's check cleared. O'Hara subsequently informed Barbara that he could obtain the loan if she provided collateral, and he asked her to complete an application for a home equity loan. Sometime thereafter, Barbara told O'Hara she no longer required his services.
In July 2009, Rosalie filed a complaint with the CPPD alleging that she and her husband had been harassed by Haroldson. Rosalie provided Captain Richard Gaito (Gaito) with transcripts of voicemail messages from Haroldson, in which he said, among other things, that he was "at the end of [his] rope" with her husband, he needed the money back, and he was getting "[r]eally, really, really aggravated." In the last of these transcribed calls, Haroldson stated that he did not understand what the problem is, why [O'Hara's] doing this, but this is not how you treat people that help you out. You don't screw them. And that's what I feel like he's doing. And none of this is aimed towards you. Believe me. But I do believe that you can say something and move him along, and I appreciate it if you could, because my frustration level is like at its breaking point, and I don't want to go and sign a complaint against him because the only thing that's going to do is tie it up even further. All Right. If I have to, I will. All right. And I'll let it be known to everybody that he took 15,000 of my money and didn't give it back in a timely manner.
And what the bullshit he has to put me through. All right. It's not appreciated.
Rosalie told Gaito that she felt threatened by the calls. She also told Gaito that Haroldson had ...