EWING — The township police department fired a police officer who they say mishandled the search for an 11-year-old and then lied about it.

Although the child was found safe the following day, Joseph Maglione still lost his job, highlighting just how seriously law enforcement takes missing persons cases — which can number from 14,000 to 16,000 a year in the state.

The parents of the Ewing child called police on May 20, 2017, and the case was deemed “high risk” under department policy based on the missing child’s age.

This meant that responding police officers were supposed to follow specific guidelines outlined by the department and the Attorney General’s Office.

Among them:

— Search inside and outside the home
— Treat the place were the child was last seen as a crime scene
— Establish a command post
— Notify supervisors in the chain of command
— Contact on-call detective
— Notify the county child abduction response team
— Contact the K-9 unit

Officials said that Maglione and his partner interviewed the parents but did no further search.

Maglione told the other responding officer to contact the county and the officer at the child’s school but did nothing else. They also didn't tell neighboring police departments to “be on the lookout,” according to a summary of the case in an appellate court that this week upheld the Civil Service Commission’s decision to approve Maglione’s termination.

The department’s chain of command learned about the missing child the next day and the child was found hours later unharmed.

An internal investigation found that Maglione had edited the other officer’s report several times and approved the final report even though “significant information was missing,” according to the appellate decision.

Internal affairs also found that Maglione had been “untruthful many times” during their probe.

He was fired in the spring of 2018 and he eventually appealed to the Superior Court, arguing that termination was too harsh of a punishment.

A panel of three judges this week determined that his violation of protocol warranted “a severe penalty” and cited past cases in which “even a single incident can be egregious enough to warrant removal without reliance on progressive-discipline policies.”

“Maglione’s absence of judgment demonstrated gross negligence and lack of fitness to continue working in the department. The public’s interest would not be served by implementing progressive discipline under these circumstances,” the judges said.

“Termination was not disproportionate or unreasonable under the circumstances, and does not shock our sense of fairness.”

The other officer who had responded with Maglione now works as a Mercer County sheriff’s officer, records show.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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