IRVINGTON, NJ — The final ruling in Irvington Police Chief Michael Chase’s first disciplinary hearing case could hinge on the sworn testimony of a former Irvington Police Department officer.
Monday, Feb. 15, was the deadline given by hearing Officer Sheila Ellington for a final ruling. This was 45 days after Chase’s lawyer, Joseph R. Donahue of River Edge, and attorney Robert Utsey, representing the township of Irvington and the Irvington Police Department, presented their summations of the almost two-year hearing.
As the Irvington Herald went to press this week, Ellington had not yet announced her ruling. The decision will mark the end of the first public departmental disciplinary hearing case Chase was forced to undergo, after being suspended in December 2012 following an investigation by the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office into allegations of wrongdoing and misconduct by Irvington Police Department Internal Affairs detectives Sgt. Frank Piwowarczyk and Sgt. Melvin Shamberger.
That investigation led to an Essex County Prosecutor’s Office report in November 2012, that found Chase had violated the state Attorney General’s Guidelines for the Operation of Police Departments multiple times. Former Irvington Police Director Joseph Santiago suspended the chief and filed eight departmental charges against him on Dec. 3, 2012, that were increased later that month to 158 departmental disciplinary charges for violating policy and procedures.
Chase challenged both the charges and his suspension and asked for disciplinary hearings on each of the departmental policy and procedural violations Santiago charged him with in 2012. He also specifically asked for the hearings to be open to the public. Most of the hearings took place inside Council Chambers in the Municipal Building in Civic Square.
Chase has been out on forced vacation that is due to end in April and he will be nearing the state’s mandatory retirement age of 65 for police officers, so his 40-plus year IPD career will be finished soon anyway. In the meantime, the Irvington Municipal Council approved a new ordinance in October that combined the Irvington Police, Fire and Parking departments into a new Public Safety Department, controlled by Public Safety Director Tracey Bowers, a former Irvington police captain and director.
Chase protested the new ordinance, saying it is illegal and not consistent with state law that prohibits the new Public Safety Department from running the Irvington Police Department’s day-to-day affairs while there is a working police chief in the department hierarchy. But the council voted to amend the ordinance in January, abolishing the position of chief of police from the Irvington Police Department’s chain of command.
Bowers ordered Chase to turn in his gun, badge, and “any other relevant material” by Jan. 19, and in a letter dated Jan. 15, said the administration would honor Chase’s vacation leave and salary until his state-mandated retirement date of July 1, 2016, subject to the findings of his disciplinary hearing.
Chase and lawyer Joshua L. Weiner of Hill Wallack LLP, have filed a lawsuit challenging the new ordinances on the premise that the actions taken by the administration are a form of retaliation against the chief for speaking out against the ordinances and other Vauss administration policies.
There was no comment from Vauss or Bowers by press time this week.