Matawan Disputes Demoted Police Chief's Allegations

In dueling legal documents, the borough and James Alston have now exchanged differing accounts of the incidents leading up to his demotion.

Matawan Borough is disputing allegations made by former police chief James Alston in his bid for reinstatement and defending the decision of the borough council to demote him to the rank of lieutenant.

Alston was at a July 11 special meeting of the council, acting after an administrative hearing. The council voted 6-1 for the demotion, along with ten days of unpaid suspension. Since the suspension ended, Alston has been using vacation time that he has accrued over his time with the department, according to a Matawan police officer.

In his , Alston demands 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 the complaint, on June 17, 2010, Matawan Borough Administrator William Garofalo filed disciplinary charges against Alston, including incapacity, misconduct, disobedience of departmental rules and regulations, conduct unbecoming of a public official, neglect of duty, incompetency, inefficency or failure to perform duties and misuse of public property including motor vehicles.

In its response, filed Aug. 9 by Attorney Matthew Giacobbe of Cleary Giacobbe Alfieri Jacobs, LLC, the borough disputes Alston's claim that the disciplinary charges were unwarranted.

Both sides agree that on Oct. 8, 2009 an altercation took place on Orchard Street in Matawan and that a complaint was filed against Alston by Anthony Gray. Alston's complaint argues that Gray is a convicted felon who had previously been arrested by Alston on drug charges. The borough concedes that Gray was convicted of drug-related charges in 1994 but contends that Alston never arrested Gray on drug charges and questions whether proper information has been presented to support the allegation that Gray is a convicted felon.

Alston's complaint and the borough's response also agree that there was an incident on Feb. 18, 2010 that was investigated by the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office. The complaint states that Alston was charged with obstructing justice by speaking with lieutenants under his command. The complaint alleges that Alston did not obstruct justice, and states that the Prosecutor's Office decided not to file any charges. Additionally, the complaint claims that the lieutenants involved said that Alston did not interfere with the performance of their duties.

The borough response, however, counters that this account of the prosecutor's determination is misleading. It states that the Prosecutor's Office "determined not to criminally prosecute [Alston], although it did inform him that his orders to his lieutenants were "dangerously close to a violation of, or directly violate[ed] both N.J.S.A 2C:29-1 Obstruction of the Administration of the Law and N.J.S.A. 2C:28-5 Tampering with a Witness and [Alston] was to "cease and desist [from making] any further suggestions, instructions, demands, orders or any other manner of communication which would suggest or direct that the lieutenants or any other potential witness(es) refrain from cooperating with the [Prosecutor's investigation into [Alston's] conduct during the [Oct. 8 incident.]"

The borough's response alleges that Alston, in his communication with his lieutenants, obstructed justice by attempting to cover up the incident Oct. 8, 2009 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]."

The borough also disputes Alston's claim that he had returned all of his weapons when asked, but provides no further detail. It alleges that Alston took an unauthorized trip to Atlantic City while on duty, citing records of his vacation, sick and personal days. His complaint argues that he was off duty at the time. 
The borough's filing even takes issue with language in Alston's complaint which states that he had served the police department with "dedication and distinction." The borough response calls that phrase "so vague and ambiguous that Defendant (Matawan Borough) cannot reasonably be expected to frame a response."

The dispute is next expected to go before a judge, according to Alston's attorney, David Corrigan. 


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