The Gazette (Hawthorne Edition), North Jersey Media Group, NorthJersey.com
BYLINE: JUSTIN ZAREMBA STAFF WRITER
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Superior Court judge dismisses administrative charges against the chief
Haledon Police Chief Louis Mercuro is back at work after a judge dismissed charges against him. NICK MESSINA/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Police Chief Louis Mercuro was reinstated after a Superior Court judge dismissed administrative charges against him following a two-year suspension and publicized legal fight.
Mercuro, a 32-year veteran of the Haledon Police Department, was suspended on administrative charges on June 5, 2009, the day after he accused a member of the Haledon Council of being under investigation for cocaine use in a theatrical display at a town meeting. Mercuro was initially suspended without pay, but a court order later amended his suspension to include pay.
Judge Thomas J. La Conte agreed with Mercuro's attorneys on Oct. 14 that the borough had no codified process for how to hear disciplinary charges against a police chief and that Richard Cushing, the hearing officer assigned to decide the case, had a conflict of interest because he previously represented the borough as an attorney in other matters.
Mercuro's attorney, Stuart Alterman, said his client had already resumed his position.
"Today is a good day for Louis Mercuro," Alterman said. "He has resumed his position as chief. He's sitting behind his desk right now and requesting the status of all cases over the last 24 months."
Mercuro was unavailable for comment, but his wife, Nancy, said she was "pleased" with the news.
Mayor Domenick Stampone said the borough would adhere to the ruling, adding that he was still waiting for a detailed review of the decision.
"We obviously will abide by whatever the judge says to do," Stampone said. "We haven't made any decision as to what we will do but we are considering our options including an appeal."
Earlier this year, Mercuro's federal lawsuit against the borough for the alleged violation of his civil rights was delayed pending the resolution of his disciplinary hearing. Alterman said he planned to amend the suit "to reflect what occurred today" and would seek "compensatory and punitive damages and other such relief that would be entitled."
Alterman added that he would invoice the borough for his attorney fees, investigation costs and other fees.
During the June 4, 2009 meeting, Mercuro claimed he was approached by investigators from police agencies in 2008 who were looking into cocaine use among members of the council. Mercuro alleged he was shown a sworn affidavit from a local bar owner who related going to New York City in a chauffeured limousine with two members of the council at the time. Various law enforcement agencies including the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office have stated the claims were invalid.
Mercuro refused to publicly name the council member at the June 4, 2009 council meeting or in subsequent interviews, but he later alleged in his federal lawsuit against the borough that Councilwoman Heather Kilminster and former Councilman Alan Souto, who was imprisoned in 2009, were under investigation for cocaine use by State Police and the FBI.
Souto, a former Passaic County Sheriff's officer, pleaded guilty to stealing 100 pounds of cocaine and heroin from an evidence locker at the Passaic County Sheriff's Office and participating in a drug distribution ring along with Henry Cortes, a boxing manager from Paterson who was responsible for delivering the drugs to the streets of Paterson. Cortes and Kendall Holt, a former boxer, of Woodland Park both pleaded guilty to their roles in the drug ring.
In his federal lawsuit against the borough, Mercuro alleges that council members also interfered with his investigation of several local bars including Jimmy Geez, The Belmont Tavern and Celebrities Cafe for violating town ordinances and serving alcohol to minors. Mercuro further claims that a week prior to the June 4, 2009 council meeting, Kilminster and Councilman Rey Martinez wanted to terminate his employment without sufficient basis.
Martinez has previously denied Mercuro's allegations, while Kilminster has refused to comment.
In May 2010, Kilminster filed a lawsuit against Mercuro and the borough alleging sexual harassment, slander and libel. Alterman said Kilminster's lawsuit was "frivolous."
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