Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 38
 
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
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Borough Eyes Police Officer’s Firing Amid Story Surrounding Sick Days

Matthew Hersh

Officer McNeff appeared Monday at Borough Hall before a specially appointed hearing officer to hear testimony from a ranking lieutenant that alleges that Officer McNeff, 33, misused sick time taken on April 16 and 17 after reportedly spending April 15 with friends, traveling to three bars between Trenton and West Windsor.

Among the 37 administrative charges Officer McNeff faces are the consumption of alcoholic beverages fewer than eight hours before a scheduled April 16 morning shift, not following proper procedure when calling out ill by not contacting a supervisor, and leaving his place of confinement while out sick without notifying departmental higher-ups.

The disciplinary hearing, a four-hour examination of the events of more than five months ago, outlined an internal investigation launched at the request of Borough Police Chief Anthony Federico that sought to explain Officer McNeff’s actions on the 15th, a Sunday, and the following two days, when the area was hit by a nor’easter.

The hearing, which did not conclude and is scheduled to resume in October, is the first of its kind in the Borough in over a decade.

Arthur Thibault Jr., an administrative prosecutor appointed by Borough Council to handle the case, outlined Officer McNeff’s alleged actions during those three days, saying that the officer was not as sick as he had claimed to be, and that corroborating testimony backs up the findings of Borough Lt. Nicholas Sutter, the internal affairs officer who conducted the investigation.

Mr. Thibault also said that the officer had broken departmental rules when on Tuesday, April 17, following a storm that dropped more than five inches of rain on the area, Officer McNeff left his Hamilton Township residence, his established “area of confinement” during his illness, to pick up supplies to bail out his basement, which had reportedly been flooded.

But Officer McNeff’s attorney, James Mets, argued that the officer has taken only nine sick days in three years and that he has a history of stomach illness, the reason Mr. McNeff cited in explaining the absences, and that the officer was being unfairly treated by the department. He specifically pointed to the Borough’s dispatching of an officer to monitor Officer McNeff’s home during his sick leave and questioned the department’s judgment during a declared state of emergency.

According to Lt. Sutter’s testimony, Officer McNeff, and New Jersey State Trooper James Doyle, met at the Ivy Tavern in Trenton, staying for the duration of a scheduled 4:05 p.m. New York Yankees game that reportedly ended at 6:53 p.m. From there, Trooper Doyle, a former Borough officer, and Officer McNeff went to the McNeff home, where they met Borough Det. Christopher Tash.

From there, the three went to Hooters in Lawrence Township, and then went to TGI Friday’s in West Windsor, where they met up with Borough Patrol Officer Sean Cahill.

There were discrepancies, both in Lt. Sutter’s internal affairs investigation, and in the arguments presented by Mr. Thibault and Mr. Mets, as to how late the officers were at Friday’s. Officer McNeff called Borough police dispatch at 1:41 a.m. to call out of his 6:30 a.m. shift, but the officer said he called from his home landline, while Det. Tash alleged that the men had left the bar near closing time, presumably 2 a.m.

Mr. Mets said that Officer McNeff did not violate call-out protocol because by calling dispatch, the officer effectively conveyed a message to his supervisor. Mr. Mets did agree that Officer McNeff did leave his place of confinement to address a flooded basement.

In interviewing the officers, Lt. Sutter said only Det. Tash testified definitively that that Officer McNeff appeared intoxicated at the conclusion of the night.

Officer McNeff, the president of Borough Police union, PBA Local No. 130, is set to re-appear before Richard Lynch, the appointed hearing officer, at the October 5 hearing, where further testimony will be put forth.

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