‘Let the storm begin’: Whistle-blowing Morristown cop alleges hiring lapses and harassment

Morristown Police Officer Keith Hudson, left, waits while attorneys confer with Superior Court Judge Louis Sceusi, May 17, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Police Officer Keith Hudson, left, waits while attorneys confer with Superior Court Judge Louis Sceusi, May 17, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz was so busy working outside jobs in 2014 that he overlooked standard hiring procedures, sending someone with four sexual assault complaints into the Morris County Public Safety Training Academy, Officer Keith Hudson testified Thursday in day two of his whistleblower trial.

“There’s no way he can be in the police,” Hudson said he told a supervisor upon learning of the hire and delving into the man’s background.

Hudson claims he was demoted from detective in 2015 in retaliation for reporting concerns about Demnitz’ alleged “double-dipping” — working freelance security gigs on town time–to the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office a year earlier.

The town denies any improprieties by the chief, and maintains the Prosecutor’s Office never found any wrongdoing, either.

Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz listens to his accuser in court, May 17, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz listens to his accuser in court, May 17, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Hudson is suing for reinstatement as a detective, restoration of stipends, and damages for emotional distress, humiliation and embarrassment.

The officer testified that interviews of job candidates are essential for gauging their character. Yet they were bypassed for the provisional hire, who lied about his record on his application.

The man subsequently was dismissed after a mental health evaluation, Hudson said during questioning by his lawyer, Jeffrey Catrambone, before Superior Court Judge Louis Sceusi and eight jurors in Morristown.

Hudson’s character was put under the microscope by defense attorney Brent Davis, who tried to paint him as a rogue cop.

Although the officer testified he loved his six years as a detective and hoped to spend his career in that role, he acknowledged under cross-examination that he asked out of the division in 2012 because a superior officer tried to put a friend in there to give him vacation preferences.

“So you were willing to give up a job you love, over a vacation policy?” Davis asked incredulously.

The lawyer pressed Hudson about his 2014 divorce, which coincided with the detective’s scrutiny of the chief. Hudson said his personal situation did not affect his police performance.

Davis also questioned an email Officer Eric Petr sent Hudson shortly after they presented their evidence against Demnitz to the Prosecutor. 

“Let the storm begin,” Petr wrote.

Were they hoping to oust the chief? Davis inquired.

They wanted their suspicions of misconduct and theft to be pursued, Hudson replied. Petr’s line simply anticipated “there were going to be repercussions,” according to Hudson.

‘NOT THE COP YOU USED TO BE’

Those repercussions started within weeks of their memo to the Prosecutor,  triggering a pattern of harassment, Hudson said.

He was confronted by a fellow detective, and by the chief, in late August 2014, he said.

The colleague asked “if my career was over,” Hudson said, and inquired if he knew about “the red book investigation,” a reference to the department log where police freelance jobs were recorded.

Hudson said he denied any such knowledge, per instructions from the Prosecutor’s office not to discuss the matter.

Later that day, behind police headquarters, Demnitz seemingly telegraphed that he knew about Hudson’s complaints.

“I know you have a job to do. But you’re not the cop you used to be,” the chief allegedly told Hudson.

Meeting outside a car dealership with an investigator from the Prosecutor’s Office, Hudson reported the chief’s “harassment” and the investigation’s blown cover.

During an October 2014 PBA meeting with then-Business Administrator Michael Rogers, Hudson, a union delegate, voiced his concerns about the chief’s double-dipping.

Within a week, the town prohibited Demnitz from working extra jobs during business hours, Hudson testified.

Two months later, Hudson’s superiors barred him from discussing PBA matters with the chief’s administrative assistant. “I’m just the messenger,” Capt. Michael Buckley told Hudson, according to the officer.

The only explanation for Hudson’s August 2015 demotion, delivered by Lt. Stuart Greer, was “personnel reasons,” Hudson testified.

He was sent for a psychiatric evaluation to determine his fitness for duty. He also was investigated when a GPS tracking device in his patrol car indicated the vehicle stayed in the same place for more than an hour during his shift.

Hudson, 38, said the probe confirmed he was performing legitimate duties. Davis disclosed in court that the investigation had been department-wide.

Separately, a mandatory review found nothing improper after a suspect Hudson arrested in a drug case lapsed into a coma, Hudson said.

The 13-year-police veteran denied two central defense arguments for his demotion:

That he tried to punt the July 2015 investigation of an armed man at Headquarters Plaza to the Secret Service, which arrested the man at its office there; and that he yelled at Lt. Greer when they were tailing suspects in a Lincoln Street drug deal shooting in February 2014, and was sent home by Greer for a day as punishment.

Instead, Hudson said he attempted to ensure strict procedures were followed in the Headquarters Plaza investigation. He had misgivings about Secret Service handling of a prior case at Headquarters Plaza involving an armed man who claimed he wanted to fight ISIS. 

And he had felt frustration when the Lincoln Street suspects were allowed to drive around for so long before being pulled over, he said.

Under cross examination, Hudson admitted disparaging Capt. Buckley, labeling him with the name of a former superior officer with checkered popularity inside the department. 

He also conceded he was unfamiliar with details of the chief’s contract, including his work schedule.

The case resumes next week. Chief Demnitz, who jotted notes during Hudson’s testimony, is a likely witness.

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