Maplewood gives police chief $280,000 to retire after herding black teens away
MAPLEWOOD — The chief of police who can purportedly be heard on dashcam videos ordering a large a group of teens to be marched out of town — an incident critics alleged was racially motivated — will get more than $200,000 to retire.
In addition, report by an risk management firm commissioned by the township said steps that could have been taken to defuse the tense situation.
Mayor Vic DeLuca released a statement to New Jersey 101.5 announcing that Chief Robert Cimino will stay on administrative leave until the end of the year, following his suspension earlier this year. DeLuca said after that, Cimino's retirement will go into effect.
"Faced with the prospect of extended and costly administrative and legal proceedings regarding this matter and a legal assessment which concluded there would be little likelihood of success in such proceedings, the township committee has reluctantly deemed it to be inn the best interest of the Township to enter this settlement," DeLuca said.
Earlier this year, Cimino and Capt. Joshua Cummins were suspended for their roles in an incident on July 5, 2016, when officers were directed to move crowds of mostly black teens to neighboring Irvington. Officials last month said many of the teens lived in Maplewood and South Orange, which have higher percentage of white residents than Irvington.
Some township committee members and members of the Black Parents Workshop residents group also say police used excessive force. Six other officers have already been disciplined for their conduct connected to the 2016 incident.
Even before the suspension, Cimino was the target of a lawsuit alleging he discriminated against a young black man in a separate incident.
DeLuca said the settlement will "successfully achieve the township committee's overriding goal of not having Mr. Cimino return to his post as chief of the Maplewood Police Department.
The mayor noted in his statement that a complaint was filed by residents against Cimino in September with the Essex County Prosecutor's Office in relation to the incident. In March, the prosecutor's office determined there was "insufficient credible evidence to warrant a prosecution in this matter."
Because of the prosecutor's findings, DeLuca said, the township was "legally precluded from issuing any discipline to Mr. Cimino," and that the settlement "is the best option to ensure that Mr. Cimino longer serves as the Chief of the Maplewood Police Department.
As part of the settlement, Cimino will receive $49,479.85 of accumulated sick, vacation, and personal time. He will also receive a payment of $115,000 in January of 2018 and 2019 minus all applicable taxes. The law firm representing Cimino will also receive a payment of $15,000.
In addition to the monetary portion of the settlement, the township will also issue a letter saying Cimino "had no formal disciplinary actions sustained against him during his tenure as chief of police." Cimino also agreed to never sue the township or to say anything negative about the township, just as township officials will be barred from saying anything negative about him.
TapInto.net reports Capt. Joshua Cummis, the other superior officer who was suspended along with Cimino, has agreed to a retirement settlement with the township. As part of his settlement, Cummis will receie $37,218.27 in compensation. That amount, according to the TapInto.net, includes $10,000 in vacation for 2018.
Jeff Garrigan, Cimino's attorney, released a statement saying his client had agreed to the settlement but "has never been charged with, let alone found guilty of, any violation of law, rule or regulation by either the Township of Maplewood or the Essex County Prosecutor's Office."
"Chief Cimino is a highly respected law enforcement professional who successfully implemented effective programs of crime control, community policing and technological advacement," Garrigan said. "He is proud of his successful efforts to broaden the diversity of the Maplewood Police Department."
Garrigan said Cimino "is appreciative of the support which he has received from family and friends as well as citizens and colleagues throughout his career and during recent events."
The independent review by the firm Hillard Heintze said there were several steps that could have been taken to better manage the situation on the night of the fireworks, and Cimino's actions exacerbated the problem rather than helping find a peaceful solution.
In its report the firm said that starting with efforts to break up a fight between two girls, the situation rapidly devolved.
"What initially began as an apparent crowd-control tactic to disperse young people from the scene of the altercation quickly expanded into a prolonged and counterproductive effort to prevent the youth from dispersing by themselves, forcing them instead on a 1.3-mile walk to the far eastern border of the township," the report said.
According to the report, the assessment team "believes the handling of this incident was not consistent with the MPD's mission 'to serve and safeguard all persons with the township in a fair, safe, professional and considerate manner."
The report also said officers at the scene could have intervened if they saw inappropriate action — not by disobeying orders, but by communicating their concerns or other solutions.
It said several supervisors interviewed afterward "indicated they believed it would have been better to allow the youth to walk down the side streets to go home or simply allow them to leave, particularly because there was no property crime occurring as the group moved down the street."
The interviewed officers involved called the events of the night a "very unusual circumstance," said the chief "very rarely actively participates in patrol or street enforcement operations, so they felt uncomfortable raising issues with him about the operation as it transpired that night," according to the report.
The firm said it was "especially concerning" no employees of the department were willing to question Cimino's tactics.
Following the suspensions, acting Capt. Jimmy DeVaul was named acting chief and Lt. Albert Sally was promoted to acting captain. DeLuca told New Jersey 101.5 that there was no timetable for selecting a new chief and that both DeVaul and Sally would stay in those positions "until further notice by the township committee."
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com