4 N.J. troopers were fired or resigned over misconduct in 2015, internal report reveals
TRENTON — Four New Jersey state troopers were either fired or forced to step down over bad behavior last year, according to a report from the State Police's internal affairs office.
They include an officer who was found guilty of domestic violence and mishandling a firearm; one who engaged in "racially offensive behavior" and publicly discussed police procedures while off duty; one who abused sick time policies and then lied about it; and one who drove drunk on the job, according to the report.
The report found overall incidents within the State Police rose 1 percent in 2015 from the previous year. The report notes that there were 727 incidents in 2015 for the division, which has 2,600 sworn members, and that it also received 1,084 citizen compliments during that same period.
It also found that incidents classified as police misconduct fell slightly, while those classified as administrative issues rose. Lt. Brian Polite, a spokesman for the State Police, attributed the change to improved self-policing within the division.
"Front-line supervisors are doing a better job of recognizing any small signs of things that could become issues and they're taking steps immediately to address them," he said.
The annual report details the findings of the Office of Professional Standards, which was created during an internal reorganization when the State Police was under federal monitoring for racial profiling. It describes major discipline meted out in misconduct cases but does not name any of the troopers involved.
State authorities also declined to identify the officers who were fired, resigned or retired over misconduct claims, calling the cases internal personnel matters. Often, troopers disciplined for misconduct are never identified publicly unless they are also charged criminally for their behavior or if they challenge the discipline before a state board.
But one of the four troopers who left the State Police last year has been identified in public records elsewhere. Sgt. Michael Roadside pleaded guilty in December to a single charge of driving while intoxicated after he was involved in a minor accident at a Garden State Parkway rest stop.
Dashboard video obtained by NJ Advance Media showed the sergeant was disheveled and acting erratically after the crash, initially declaring he wasn't drunk and blaming his behavior on a medical problem. The discipline report indicates Roadside was given a 56-day suspension and forfeited his vacation and personal time before he was forced into retirement over the ordeal.
It also discloses that one trooper was charged with simple assault in 2015 for an off duty incident, but was acquitted at trial and is still facing an internal misconduct investigation. NJ Advance Media reported last year that Trooper Aris Varvar was found not guilty of simple assault after he was accused of kicking a handcuffed suspect in the head following a police chase.
The report indicates that four troopers were charged with criminal or disorderly persons offenses while off duty during 2015.
That most likely includes trooper Steven Hodge, who was indicted last October for attacking a man with a bottle in a dispute outside Met Life Stadium. A second grand jury later threw out the case against Hodge, instead indicting his brother for the assault, but the trooper may still face lesser charges in municipal court and an internal investigation is ongoing.
Many of the officers disciplined in 2015 pleaded guilty to or were found guilty of incidents involving alcohol or domestic violence. Only two were disciplined for excessive force, including a trooper who pepper sprayed and kicked a suspect "without justification" and received a 120-day suspension, the report said.
It's unclear when many of these incidents occurred because disciplinary matters within the division can stretch on for months or years, meaning action brought against a trooper in 2015 could stem from an incident that happened much earlier.