NJ teacher suspended despite expunged domestic violence arrests
A South Jersey teacher who was arrested numerous times on charges involving drugs and domestic violence might have thought she was in the clear after all those complaints were dismissed and eventually wiped clean.
But an administrative law judge and the regulatory body that credentials teachers have ruled that the records expungement doesn't mean that her inappropriate behavior never happened.
The State Board of Examiners this month adopted a six-month suspension of Jennifer C. Greco’s certificates in elementary K-5 education following a years-long legal battle.
In the end, the board found the Greco — a mother who was arrested twice on charges of assaulting the man who fathered her two children — showed “an inability to restrain her impulsive behavior and conduct herself in accordance with the standards of that of a teacher and role model for children.”
This case shows the limits of criminal expungements, which have been at the forefront of attention as the Legislature moves forward on efforts to decriminalize and legalize marijuana, including wiping the records of people with past marijuana convictions.
While expunged arrests and convictions are not supposed to show up in background checks or on public courthouse databases, those records never fully vanish and in certain cases can continue to haunt people trying to move on.f
Last month, for example, a Bergen County man was denied the right to purchase firearms even though his felony conviction from 18 years ago had been expunged.
In Greco's teacher certification case, an administrative law judge noted that an expungement was not the same as an exoneration.
The judge and the board also said that a dismissal — which is a common practice in courts — is not the same as being found not guilty or being innocent.
About half of domestic violence cases in municipal courts are dismissed without prosecution, in large part because victims are unwilling to press charges against a loved one. The board's decision noted that Greco's 2012 arrest on a charge of attempt to cause bodily injury by punching her now-ex in the head was dismissed because her boyfriend did not want to jeopardize Greco's job by pressing charges.
Greco was also arrested in 2011 on charges that she refused police orders and resisted being handcuffed. She was charged in 2008 with cocaine use and possession.
The case that resulted in the board taking action was a 2015 arrest in Deptford on a charge of aggravated assault following a fight with her ex in front of their children. The initial complaint claimed she cut her ex's face with a knife but Greco argued that he had been accidentally cut by a shard from a dinner plate that had fallen during an argument about her ex owing $40,000 in child support.
An administrative law judge later determined that Greco had thrown the dinner plate at her ex "like a frisbee" as their children watched.
Administrative Law Judge Dorothy Incarvito-Garrabrant tried to give Greco a slap on the wrist with a one-month suspension of her credentials by citing Greco's "increased frustrations" with being owed $67,000 in child support and being the primary earner for her family.
The state Attorney General's Office argued against the judge's decision, noting that many of her arrests were before she became a parent and that her "blatant disregard for the law," which "severely undermines the public’s confidence and trust in Greco," was deserving of more than a year of suspension.
The board agreed that Greco's financial stress and difficulty resulting from a suspension was irrelevant because nearly all educators who lose their certificates suffer financially as a result. But citing the “personal family situation that led to her conduct,” the board settled on a six-month suspension of her credentials.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
nearly all educators who lose their credentials suffer as a result. But citing her “personal family situation that led to her conduct,” the board settled on a six-month suspension.