Morristown Police Officer Keith Hudson enjoyed his six years as a detective because, he said, his investigations sometimes enabled him to tell a crime victim that “someone was held accountable.”
Now, he is trying to hold his boss accountable — for busting him back to the patrol division.
Hudson testified Wednesday on the first day of his whistleblower case against Police Chief Pete Demnitz, who demoted him in 2015– about a year after Hudson and Officer Eric Petr brought questions about the chief’s side jobs to the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office.
“My concern was the chief was double-dipping and committing theft, by working all these extra-duty jobs during the work week, while being paid by the town of Morristown,” Hudson told the eight-person jury, before Superior Court Judge Louis Sceusi in Morristown.
The town denies Hudson’s contentions, and intends to prove that the animus belonged to the officer. “He doesn’t like the chief,” and schemed unsuccessfully to get him removed, said Brent Davis, the town’s counsel.
Suing under the state’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act, Hudson seeks reinstatement as a detective.
He also wants restoration of lost stipends that could affect his pension, and damages for the “humiliation, embarrassment, anxiety and loss of esteem” caused by the demotion, an act of “retaliation” by the chief, said Hudson’s lawyer, Jeffrey Catrambone.
The civil trial, anticipated to take up to three weeks, will prove Hudson was demoted for performance issues, Davis said.
Two incidents may loom large. When the Secret Service nabbed an armed man at Headquarters Plaza in July 2015, Detective Hudson wanted to punt the investigation to the federal agency, Davis contended.
Another episode in the winter of 2014 involved an investigation of a drug deal and possible shooting on Lincoln Street. Testimony is expected to explore whether Hudson was disciplined for allegedly yelling at a superior officer at the crime scene.
Morristown police, members of the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office, mental health experts and an economist are among probable witnesses.
Hudson’s lawyer produced a cardboard enlargement of records detailing 62 freelance jobs, spanning 43 dates between January and July of 2014, worked by Demnitz, who joined the department in 1983 and became chief in 2004.
Petr, who is not a party to the lawsuit, took photos of the log book at night to avoid tipping off the chief to their investigation, Hudson testified.
The officer never made eye contact with Demnitz, who watched him impassively from the defense table.
Morristown police have a rotating system for choosing off-duty freelance work, providing traffic control for companies such as JCP&L, PSE&G and Verizon, and security services for the Morristown & Township Library, the Morristown Neighborhood House and Morristown Medical Center, Hudson explained to the jury.
Hourly rates in 2014 were $45 for nonprofits and $56 for commercial customers; nights and weekends could fetch time-and-a-half or double-time.
The chief got first crack at these jobs, a practice that subsequently has been eliminated.
Hudson, who was hired in 2005, said he sometimes saw Demnitz at side gigs on weekdays, raising suspicions of official misconduct, theft and records-tampering.
However, the officer conceded he was unfamiliar with terms of the chief’s contract, or whether Demnitz was working during vacations or sick days.
“There’s no ‘there’ there,” said Davis.
Although town officials responded to the situation by asking Demnitz to limit his off-duty jobs to weekends, “nobody found any wrong-doing, and that was the end of that,” the attorney said.