A former Rutgers police sergeant has recently filed a complaint against the University, claiming that there were officers in the Rutgers—Newark department who drank alcohol on duty, slept while on the job, failed drug tests and had side vaping businesses while on assignment, according to NorthJersey.com.
Sgt. Michael Jason Farella, who first joined the police department in Newark in 2001, filed the suit on March 6 in the Superior Court of Essex County. He also included in the suit that he was fired after he sent an anonymous "whistle-blower" letter on the illegal activity of other officers to Chief of University Police Kenneth Cop, Deputy Chief Michael Rein and Lt. Matt Gulsby.
The letter was sent in August 2017 and described several instances in which multiple high-ranking officers were engaging in misconduct and illegal activity. The complaint detailed not only how officers drank beer and slept on duty, conducted private businesses and failed drug tests, but also included that officers covered up two drunk driving violations from their own members. One officer was intoxicated when he crashed into a parked car and injured a female passenger, according to the article.
While the incident was reported, Christopher Lenzo, Farella's attorney, said the police report was inaccurate. Farella was made aware of this fact because he had been on radio communications the night of the coverup.
“While we certainly won’t comment on the merits of this case, or of any pending litigation, we will respond that as an accredited law enforcement agency, the Rutgers University Police Department (RUPD) holds its employees to the highest standards in order to provide professional policing services for the community,” said University spokeswoman Dory Devlin in response.
Farella's letter also described how disciplinary files for high-ranking officers no longer existed after Rutgers merged with the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) in 2013. Specifically, the complaint he filed stated that certain files for UMDNJ officers were "lost."
“When UMDNJ merged with Rutgers, apparently a number of the supervisors’ disciplinary files and personnel files ‘disappeared,’” Lenzo said.
“They found out it was Sgt. Farella (who wrote the letter) during an internal affairs investigation because he admitted he was the one who sent the letter, and within roughly six months they disciplined him by firing him for something that had occurred much earlier,” Lenzo said.
Lenzo said the allegations filed by Farella had been occurring for some time, and were not isolated incidents. Those who have been claimed to be participating in the activity include two sergeants, a captain and a lieutenant in the department.
Officers who were supervisors in the department allegedly did not show up for work, but were still getting paid and "steal(ing) overtime," the complaint stated.
“Basically, they would take time off during their regular shift without recording it but then come in when they weren’t assigned, getting time-and-a-half for that,” Lenzo said.
Although the department conducted an investigation into the letter's allegations and took some remedial actions regarding overtime issues and time reporting, Lenzo said he did not know whether any officer was disciplined or fired.
“The RUPD takes any allegations of employee misconduct seriously and investigates them thoroughly and appropriately in accordance with proper procedures,” Devlin said.
A month after sending the anonymous letter, though, Farella admitted to Rein in an internal affairs investigation that he wrote it. Two days after the questioning with Rein, an incident occurred between a new police officer and Farella. Farella ordered the new officer not to pursue a driver several times before the officer complied to his directions, according to the article.
Afterward, Lts. Michael Shoulars, Daniel Duran and John Bell wrote an administrative memo about the incident, noting that Farella properly oversaw the incident to Capt. Alex Rabar. But seven months later, Farella received disciplinary charges on the incident and was fired by Chief Carmelo Huertas on May 7.
Farella “failed to properly supervise the pursuit scenario” by not “taking control and providing direction to field units … resulting in an unauthorized pursuit being permitted to continue,” the complaint stated regarding the final notice of disciplinary action.
Other officers who were on duty during the incident received less severe charges, with a sergeant and lieutenant being given written warnings and the new officer who pursued the driver being suspended for three days. Lenzo said the termination was a retaliation due to Farella's anonymous letter, which violated the Conscientious Employee Protection Act.
“He's the only one that blew the whistle on unlawful conduct, and he got the most severe discipline,” Lenzo said. “He didn’t see one mistake and then write a letter — it was an ongoing problem. The ultimate goal is for a jury to hear the case and rule in his favor and award him damages, both to make him whole economically and award him damages for the emotional distress this has put him through.”
The article's requests for comment from the RUPD did not draw any immediate responses from the department.