IRVINGTON, NJ — After more than 40 years as a police officer, Irvington Police Chief Michael Chase turned in his badge and gun Tuesday, Jan. 19, at headquarters. He had been ordered to do so by Public Safety Director Tracey Bowers in a directive hand-delivered to him at his home by detectives from the department’s Internal Affairs Unit on Friday, Jan. 15.
Chase’s job title and position were abolished at the Irvington Township Council’s regular meeting Tuesday, Jan. 12.
Chase and his lawyer, Joshua L. Weiner of Hill Wallack LLP, officially notified the township Tuesday, Jan. 19, of a possible lawsuit to protest the council’s action if the two sides cannot come to some kind of an agreement.
“My lawyer has sent township attorney Ramon Rivera a copy of my complaint,” Chase said Tuesday, Jan. 19. “My lawyer wants to talk this out. We want to resolve this.”
No one from the township was able to confirm receipt of Chase’s legal complaint by press time this week. Chase’s lawsuit is a follow-up to a letter he read to the council Tuesday, Jan. 12, before members voted on the second reading of Ordinance No. B-8-1 that abolished the position of chief of police from the Irvington Police Department’s chain of command.
Weiner’s letter stated the “new ordinance must meet the approval of the Civil Service Commission,” before Chase could be removed from his position in the Irvington Police Department, but that didn’t stop the council from voting unanimously to approve the ordinance.
“It is painfully obvious that the township is trying to unlawfully remove Chief Chase from his position as police chief, rather than allow him to close out his tenure,” Weiner said in the letter Chase read to the council on Tuesday, Jan. 12. “It is similarly clear and obvious that these actions are being taken against Chief Chase as retaliation for his frequent complaints regarding the unlawful usurpation of powers by Director Bowers in derogation of police statute. The township’s actions against Chief Chase are in stark violation of (the Conscientious Employee Protection Act), as well as the police statute.”
Despite this, Weiner said he and his client wanted to “amicably resolve this matter in short order.” However, he said failing that, Chase told him to go ahead and sue the township.
“I have been instructed to file a lawsuit in the superior court against the township seeking a declaratory judgment, as well as pecuniary and compensatory damages, punitive damages and an award of attorney’s fees,” Weiner said in the letter.
“Given the pending passage of a new ordinance, it is imperative that you or a representative get back to me in short order to discuss. Otherwise, the only remaining option will be a lawsuit.”
According to witnesses in the audience at the council’s Jan. 12 meeting, after Chase read Weiner’s letter, Council President Charnette Frederic informed Chase that the administration had a letter of its own from the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, stating the best way to address the chief’s concerns about the legality recently passed ordinances was to “abolish” the chief of police job title and powers from the town’s municipal code, which the council voted to do.
“In accordance with the attached revised ordinance regarding the creation of the Public Safety Department, as well as resolution MC 3562, which waived the 20-day waiting period, the position of chief of police is abolished in the township of Irvington,” Bowers said in a letter dated Friday, Jan. 15, and addressed to Chase.
“On Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016 at 0900 hours, please return all chief of police-related equipment, which includes your service weapons, badges and any other relevant material. The township will honor your vacation leave through the remaining period of your chief’s salary.”
The letter from Bowers goes on to state: “Thereafter, you may receive payment at the chief’s salary up to your state-mandated retirement date of July 1, 2016.
“Both of the above actions may be subject to the findings of your disciplinary hearing. Thank you for your dedication and service over the many years. If you have any questions, please contact my office.”
Chase said that is what he and Weiner did on Tuesday, Jan. 19, and they are now waiting to find out how the township responds to the possibility of a legal filing against them.
Weiner could not be reached for comment by press time this week.