Civil Suit Filed Against Demoted Matawan Police Chief, Officers and Officials
Suit accuses former Matawan police chief of excessive force and false arrest and intoxication, among other charges.
A civil lawsuit filed against demoted Matawan police chief James Alston, five Matawan police officers and five Borough officials or employees last September accuses them of violating the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of Anthony Gray, a Neptune resident.
Details of the suit, filed by Gray's attorney on Sept. 22, 2011, were obtained by Patch through an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, filed with the borough. It centers on an Oct. 5, 2009 incident and alleges that Alston was intoxicated at the time.
Alston's attorney, David Corrigan, did not return phone calls about the lawsuit. However, he has previously accused Gray of making false charges against the former police chief and has also described him as a convicted felon who was once arrested by Alston.
The suit is the most recent development in an ongoing legal battle involving the demotion of Alston, Matawan's first African American police chief, to the rank of lieutenant in July 2011.
The Alleged Incident
The suit alleges that on Oct. 5, 2009 Gray, who was on crutches at the time, was walking on Orchard Street when Alston pulled his vehicle up in front of a house on the street and nearly sideswiped a man on a bike.
The suit alleges Alston instructed the man on the bike to leave the area and Gray and Orchard Street residents asked Alston why he had almost hit the man. It states Alston allegedly pulled his car up to where Gray was standing to tell him he was under arrest. The suit then states that five unnamed Matawan police officers, referred to as John Does 1-5, arrived on the scene.
Gray alleges that Alston ordered the officers to arrest him, but they did not. Gray said he then continued up Orchard toward his truck, which was parked on the street.
Alston allegedly told Gray not to move because he was under arrest, and Gray then stopped and leaned against a fence alongside the road. While he was leaning there, the suit states, Alston allegedly flicked a cigarette at Gray and it went down his shirt, burning him.
The officers allegedly brought Alston over to his car, and Gray sat on a friend's porch with other neighborhood residents, the suit says. The suit alleges that Alston demanded that everyone on the street be arrested if they did not leave.
The suit states that the officers and Alston left the scene after about 4 hours and no one on the street was arrested.
According to the suit, Gray was subsequently detained and Alston and the five officers misrepresented the facts of the Oct. 5, 2009 incident and falsified police or other official records.
Due to these allegations, the suit states Gray experienced bodily harm, mental anguish and a violation of his constitutional rights. The suit accuses Alston and the five officers of using excessive force, false arrest, illegal search and seizure, failure to intervene during the incident, malicious abuse of process and supervisory liability.
In addition, they are accused of assault and battery, a second count of false arrest/imprisonment, a second count of unlawful search and seizure, negligence, and violating the New Jersey Civil Rights Act.
The also suit accuses five unnamed borough employees or officials, referred to as John Does 6-10, of unlawful custom, practice or policy and inadequate training, alleging that the borough failed to train, supervise, control or discipline Alston and John Does 1-10.
Gray is suing for compensatory and punitive damages, attorney's fees, interest and costs of suit incurred and any additional amount the court sees fit.
The suit demands that the borough and the police department implement regular and consistent training programs to educate officers and employees on false arrest, unlawful search and seizure, malicious prosecuting and using excessive force in addition to demanding that a systematic action plan be put in place for officers who falsely arrest, unlawfully conduct a search and seizure, maliciously prosecute or use excessive force.
Gray also demands that Alston and the five officers be fired or be restricted to clerical work and desk duty and be barred from patrols, arrests and other active duty assignments.
According to Matawan Borough Attorney Pasquale Menna, the attorney representing the borough in this matter has not filed a response to the lawsuit as of Tuesday, Dec. 31.
In mid-2010, sealed disciplinary charges were filed against Alston, and were followed by a paid leave of absence, granted by the Borough Council, pending an administrative hearing. The decision of the hearing officer was delivered on Feb. 25, 2011.
According to the complaint filed by Alston, on June 17, 2010, Matawan Borough Administrator William Garofalo filed disciplinary charges against Alston, citing four incident. The incident alleged by Gray was one of them. Garofalo charged Alston with incapacity, misconduct, disobedience of the rules and regulations set forth by the government for the police department and force, conduct unbecoming of a public official, neglect of duty, incompetency, inefficency or failure to perform duties, misuse of public property including motor vehicles and other sufficient cause.
In June 2011, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Newark, responded to a complaint made to them by Alston against the borough. The EEOC stated that during Alston's employment with the Borough of Matawan he has been "subjected to disparate and less favorable treatment based on his race and age," including receiving contract terms and conditions less favorable than previous chiefs.
In a special meeting in July 2011, the Matawan Borough Council voted 6-1 to pass a resolution to demote James Alston from chief of police to the rank of lieutant. The resolution reaffirmed the findings of the administrative hearing, Matawan Mayor Paul Buccellato said in July.
After the demotion, Alston's attorney, David Corrigan, Corrigan said the administrative case against Alston originated from accusations in 2010 by Gray, who he said is a convicted felon who had been arrested by the former chief on drug charges.
"Gray falsely stated that Alston had acted improperly. . .The matter was investigated by the [Monmouth County] Prosecutor's Office. The Prosecutor's Office found that there was no merit to the charge," Corrigan said in July.
In a complaint filed July 20, Alston demanded that he be reinstated as the chief of police, that the disciplinary charges be dismissed and expunged from his personnel file and all borough documents and that he be awarded attorney fees and any other amount the court sees fit.
According to Corrigan, Alston had responded to the scene after a resident had called to inform him that a crowd was gathering on Orchard Street, possibly linked to criminal activity. Corrigan also said that another Matawan police officer, Darian Holmes, said that Alston was not intoxicated and did not flick a cigarette at the suspect.
In the borough's response to Alston's complaint, both parties agree that an incident took place in October 2009 on Orchard Street, which resulted in a complaint being filed against Alston by Gray. The borough's response alleges that Alston, in his communication with his lieutenants, obstructed justice by attempting to cover up the Orchard Street incident. It also alleges a "mischaracterization" of the lieutenants' actions in Alston's complaint, stating that they had actually "testified that they disregarded [Alston's] unlawful orders, reported the matter to the [prosecutor] and proceeded as directed by the [prosecutor]."
According to an article in The Independent last March, Alston sued the borough in the 1990s, charging retaliation and discrimination against his nephew who had been denied a position. In 1996, the lawsuit was settled and Alston received $360,000. In 2000, Alston filed a lawsuit alleging a racially motivated decision by the department to bypass him for promotion. Two years later, he was promoted to lieutenant and in July 2008 he was promoted to chief of police.
Since March 16, 2010, when Alston was approved for paid administrative leave, Officer Jason Gallo has been the commanding officer. He will remain as the commanding officer until all legal issues regarding Alston are resolved, officials said.