ROCKAWAY TOWNSHIP — A township police officer avoided going to prison after being charged with trying to get his cousin’s DWI ticket dismissed. But he won’t be getting back pay for the years he was suspended.

A three-judge panel this week rejected Clifton Gautheir’s appeal of a Civil Service Commission denial of his back pay.

Gautheir was suspended without pay in January 2014 after being charged in 2012 with second-degree official misconduct and third-degree witness tampering.

Prosecutors said Gautheir called the state trooper who had issued his cousin a drunk driving ticket in 2011. Gautheir told the trooper that he did not need to show up in court because the municipal prosecutor was resolving the case, officials said. But when the trooper called the prosecutor to confirm, they learned that Gautheir had lied, officials said.

If Gautheir had been convicted of the second-degree corruption charge he would have been sentenced to a mandatory five years in prison with no chance of parole.

Instead, he copped a sweetheart deal that did not require him to plead guilty to a lesser charge. As part of the deal, he was admitted into the court’s pre-trial intervention program and sentenced to a year of probation and 25 hours of community service.

Pre-trial intervention allows first-time, non-violent offenders to avoid getting a conviction record if they remain out of trouble for a few years. It usually requires that the defendant plead guilty to an offense.

Also as part of the plea deal, Gautheir was not barred from public employment or from returning to the police force.

In 2017 he was reinstated to his job in the township and awarded back pay from the time of his PTI completion on Jan. 27 to the date of his reinstatement on March 8 of that year. He now earns about $118,000 a year before overtime.

Gautheir, however, also wanted back pay for all the years that he had been suspended.

The Civil Service Commission — and the appellate judges this week — denied that request, pointing out that back pay is only awarded to officials who are found not guilty or who have had their charges dismissed.

Although the successful completion of PTI results in the dismissal of charges, PTI is not considered a vindication or a “favorable disposition” like an acquittal or termination of prosecution.

Doctors and teachers who have been sentenced to PTI have gone on to lose their licenses and certification.

“If the Legislature wanted to include PTI as vindication enabling an officer to collect back pay, it could have readily amended the statute,” the judges said this week. “We will not construe the law more broadly than indicated by its plain language. And the plain language at the time the law was enacted in 1973 did not include PTI, a diversionary program adopted in 1990.”

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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.