Final ruling in Chase’s disciplinary hearing set for February

IRVINGTON, NJ — Since Friday, Jan. 1, the clock has been counting down for Sheila Ellington to make a final ruling on Irvington Police Chief Michael Chase’s first public disciplinary hearing case. Ellington is the hearing officer appointed almost two years ago to oversee the case, which is based on multiple misconduct charges filed by former police Director Joseph Santiago in 2013.

A report from the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office accused Chase of more than 20 counts of violating the state Attorney General’s Guidelines for the Operation of Police Departments was issued after two detectives from the police department’s Internal Affairs Division accused the chief of ordering them to break the law by taking his wife’s car to be repaired while they were on active duty.

According to Chase, all evidence and testimony has been presented to Ellington by his lawyer, attorney Joseph R. Donahue of River Edge, and attorney Robert Utsey, who is representing the township and the Irvington Police Department. Ellington’s decision is the final step in the process that began in 2013.

“All of the evidence has been turned in and she has 45 days from Jan. 1 to make her ruling,” Chase said Friday, Jan. 8. “That all happened at the end of last year and now the hearing officer has 45 days to make her final ruling. That should come sometime in February.”

Ellington issued a gag order for the attorneys for both sides in the Chase disciplinary hearing case during the first days of testimony. As of press time, although the gag order has run its course, there has been no word from either lawyer.

“All we can do now is wait to see what decision (Ellington) comes to, based on all the evidence and testimony she’s heard and seen, and what ruling she makes in the case,” Chase said.

Chase has been on paid suspension or out on vacation for most of the court proceedings.; he was suspended by Santiago during the last days of former Mayor Wayne Smith’s administration in 2013, first without pay and then with pay.

After his election in 2014, Tony Vauss reinstated Chase to active duty in the Irvington Police Department until Monday, May 4, 2015. According to the chief, the mayor and acting police Director and Business Administrator Musa Malik ordered him to take a “directed vacation” to use up the more than 300 vacation days he had accumulated during his 40-year career. Vauss and Chase said that vacation became effective Sunday, March 1, 2015, and is scheduled to last until April of this year.

Until then, the chief is still allowed to stop by the Police Department and check in, but technically can’t run day-to-day affairs. Capt. Dwayne Mitchell has been running the Irvington Police Department in Chase’s absence, with help from Malik and Santiago, who Vauss rehired in 2015 to serve as a paid law enforcement consultant, after firing him in 2014 in favor of Capt. Tracey Bowers.

Bowers was appointed to serve as police director, but retired from the Irvington Police Department last year and resigned from the police director’s post only to resume it recently when he was rehired to the same post by Vauss. Late last year, the Municipal Council voted to create a new Public Safety Department by consolidating the Police and Fire departments in one administrative umbrella and the mayor appointed Bowers as the township’s first-ever public safety director.

But Chase is still the chief of the Irvington Police Department, even in absentia — at least until his vacation ends in April. By then, Ellington will have made her final ruling in his first disciplinary hearing case.