Santiago to appear at former police chief’s disciplinary hearing

IRVINGTON, NJ — A familiar witness will take the stand on Wednesday, June 5, at 1 p.m., in former Irvington Police Chief Michael Chase’s disciplinary hearing case in downtown Newark.

“Joseph Santiago is scheduled to take the stand,” said Chase on Saturday, May 25. He was supposed to be a rebuttal witness. He’s already taken the stand and now it’s our turn to cross examine him.”

Santiago is the former Irvington police director and is currently employed by the Irvington Public Safety Department.

Chase said he’s being represented by attorney Joseph Donahue of Edgewater. The township is being represented by attorneys Susan Volker and Chris Turiano.

According to Chase, Volker and Turiano are the latest lawyers who have been hired to handle his disciplinary hearing case, which began six years ago, when Santiago suspended Chase and filed eight departmental charges against him on Dec. 3, 2012. Those charges were later increased to a total of 158 departmental disciplinary charges for violating IPD policy and procedures. But, once Chase’s actual disciplinary hearing began, the number of charges was reduced to 22.

On Wednesday, Feb. 24, attorney Sheila Ellington, hired by the town to serve as the hearing officer in Chase’s first disciplinary hearing, rendered a final decision on all 22 charges after receiving a report from the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office that found Chase guilty of multiple violations of the state Attorney General Guidelines for the Operation of Police Departments. Those violations resulted from a formal complaint filed by Detective Sgts. Melvin Shamberger and Frank Piwowarczyk.

“The hearing was conducted on various dates throughout 2013, 2014 and 2015,” Ellington said. “Testimony concluded on Sept. 23, 2015. At the conclusion of the township’s case, Donahue made a motion to dismiss all charges against Chase. That application was stayed and will now be incorporated into this hearing officer’s decision and statement of reasons.”

Based on Ellington’s decision, Chase was found guilty of charges 1-5 and 8,. Most of the other charges Chase faced were related to a lack of truthfulness, regarding his behavior with Shamberger and Piwowarczyk.

The first disciplinary hearings dealt specifically with the 22 charges originated by Santiago regarding the allegation by Piwowarczyk and Shamberger that, while they were on duty in August 2012, Chase had ordered them to take his wife’s car for repairs by members of Piwowarczyk’s family who run an auto repair business in another municipality. The two testified they reported this violation of departmental policy and procedure to Santiago, who advised them to comply with the order but also report it to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.

Both Piwowarczyk and Shamberger testified that they followed Santiago’s advice and reported the incident to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, which conducted an investigation and produced a report that Santiago then used to charge Chase with the 22 violations of departmental policy and procedure. Those charges included multiple counts of conduct unbecoming a public employee; misuses of public property; truthfulness; prohibited activity; obedience to laws; knowingly issuing orders in violation of police department rules and order; and obedience to laws and regulations.

Both sides — Chase and Donahue on one side and Utsey representing the township and Irvington Police Department on the other — called a number of witnesses to appear before Ellington and give testimony at the hearings. The list of witnesses included Santiago, Piwowarczyk, Shamberger, former Mayor Wayne Smith, Capt. Dwayne Mitchell, other Irvington Police Department members, some of the department’s civilian employees and ultimately Chase himself.

And now Santiago has been called back to the stand on Wednesday, June 5.