The Matawan Borough Council, in a special meeting Monday night, voted 6-1 to demote James M. Alston from chief of police to the rank of lieutenant, along with ten days of unpaid suspension.
Councilwoman Tori Angelini cast the only vote against the measure.
The demotion also includes a reduction in annual salary, according to Mayor Paul Buccellato. Officer Jason Gallo remains the borough's commanding officer.
The resolution reaffirms the recommendation of an administrative hearing officer, Richard Gantner, according to Pasqual Menna, the borough's attorney.
Sealed disciplinary charges were filed against Alston, the department's first African-American chief, in mid-2010 and were followed by a paid leave of absence, granted by the council, pending an administrative hearing. The decision of the hearing officer was delivered on Feb. 25, 2011.
According to Menna, the cause for disciplinary action and the records of the administrative hearing will remain sealed because the matter is considered a "personnel issue." If Alston brings legal action against the council's decision, the documents would become public information however.
"It's a very difficult issue. It's a very complicated issue and it's an issue that has to be dealt with delicately," said Menna.
The council reviewed transcripts from the hearing, closing briefs from both sides and met in executive session with Alston and his attorney, David Corrigan.
"The council and myself took considerable time and reviewed a considerable amount of information," Mayor Buccellato said during the meeting.
Matawan resident Adele Sammarco spoke publicly at the meeting, asking repeatedly that the public be told why Alston was initially suspended and what fiscal impact his suspension had on the borough.
"This is a public office and the people have a right to know," Sammarco said.
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 Gallo has been the commanding officer. He will remain as the commanding officer until all legal issues regarding Alston are resolved, officials said.
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