Morristown cop trial heats up on day three; chief denies reassigning cop for blowing whistle on him

Police Chief Pete Demnitz is sworn in for civil trial, as Superior Court Judge Louis Sceusi watches, May 21, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Police Chief Pete Demnitz is sworn in for civil trial, as Superior Court Judge Louis Sceusi watches, May 21, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz denied busting Detective Keith Hudson to the patrol division in 2015 as retribution for blowing the whistle on him, telling a jury on Monday he suspected a different officer of reporting him to authorities for alleged “double-dipping.”

Things heated up when Hudson’s lawyer pressed the chief about his decision to reassign the detective — a decision made when a superior officer allegedly told Demnitz that Hudson was balking at investigating an armed man nabbed by the Secret Service in Headquarters Plaza in July of that year.

“I was thinking about South Carolina, where nine people were killed. I had a guy with hollow-point bullets, and a bullet-proof vest, and I don’t remember exactly if I brought up other issues,” Demnitz said under questioning by attorney Jeffrey Catrambone.

It was Demnitz’s first day on the stand, as the civil trial before Superior Court Judge Louis Sceusi entered its third day.

Hudson, a 13-year veteran of the police force, is suing for restoration of his detective status and stipends, along with damages.  He contends Demnitz demoted him in retaliation for bringing allegations of misconduct and theft to the Prosecutor in 2014 over freelance jobs the chief appeared to be working on town time.

Video: Things heat up as police chief takes the stand:

Demnitz testified on Monday that he became aware of the probe in 2014, but did not discover Hudson was behind it until the chief’s ex-wife referred him to a newspaper article in October 2015–more than a year after the detective went to the prosecutor.

Instead, Demnitz said, he suspected Lt. Robert Holtz, who had oversight of the freelance log book, known as the “red book.”

“That officer was in line to be the chief of police,” Demnitz testified.

Demnitz told the court his decision to reassign Hudson came as the Headquarters Plaza investigation was unfolding.

Andrew Pfitzenmayer, later convicted of weapons charges, was arrested by the Secret Service with a pair of handguns after inquiring about the location of a cinema and daycare center in Headquarters Plaza, the chief testified.

“He was casing the area… to kill as many people as he could,” Demnitz said.

Officer Keith Hudson leaves the stand on third day of testimony in civil trial, May 21, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Officer Keith Hudson,left, leaves the stand on third day of testimony in civil trial, May 21, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

As the chief was fielding calls from the Prosecutor’s Office, Mayor Tim Dougherty, and TV news stations, Capt. Michael Buckley came into his office with a “look of shock,” Demnitz recounted.

Buckley asserted that Hudson, his senior detective, felt the Secret Service should lead the investigation since it made the arrest.

“If he doesn’t think the Morristown police should be involved, I said maybe he shouldn’t be in the d.b.,” Demnitz said he told Buckley, referring to the detective bureau.

Buckley then mentioned a Lincoln Street shooting from the winter of 2014, when Lt. Stuart Greer allegedly sent home Hudson for declining to canvas the neighborhood, according to the chief’s testimony.

“I told him, ‘Mike, this is really simple: E-mail on Monday . Go down there and run the investigation,” Demnitz testified.

Pressed some more by Catrambone, Demnitz acknowledged mentioning the Morris County Prosecutor’s investigation of him during the brief exchange with Buckley.

Demnitz: Given the issue of everybody’s time being accounted for, it was surprising to me that Lt. Stuart Greer had sent Keith Hudson home. It’s the first time I’m hearing about it, and there’s no accountability for it.

Catrambone: In 2014, the prosecutor had investigated you for illegal activity for official misconduct and theft, yes or no?

Demnitz: Yes they have.

Catrambone: So one year later, in 2015, when you have a less than 15 minute conversation with Buckley,  where you decide to remove Keith Hudson from the detective bureau, one of the issues that you were referring to when you said, “everyone’s time is being looked into,” is that prosecutor’s investigation.

Demnitz: Absolutely.

Hudson has testified that he actually had expressed concerns about ensuring the Secret Service followed proper procedures in the Headquarters Plaza investigation; he was critical of the federal agency’s handling of a prior case. The Secret Service has an office in Headquarters Plaza.

‘I’M THE DADDY OF THE ORGANIZATION’

From January to July of 2014, Demnitz worked freelance security gigs. On 14 of those occasions, he worked multiple “extra-duty” jobs, for JCP&L, Morristown Medical Center, the Morristown & Township Library, the Morristown Parking Authority, Mill Creek Construction, and Sanitary Construction.

On Friday, April 11, 2014, he worked three freelance jobs, totaling 13 hours, over morning, early evening and late evening shifts, Hudson testified. For five of these dates, the chief used some vacation time.

No criminal charges were filed against Demnitz, testified Morris County Prosecutor Detective Patrick LaGuerre, who investigated complaints from Hudson and Officer Eric Petr but never interviewed the police chief about the allegations.

Investigator Patrick LaGuerre of the Morris County Prosecutor's Office testifies on third day of testimony in civil trial, May 21, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Investigator Patrick LaGuerre of the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office testifies on third day of testimony in civil trial, May 21, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

That’s because LaGuerre spoke with Morristown’s then-Business Administrator Michael Rogers, who told him the town had no policy preventing the chief from changing his work schedule, and that the chief was available 24-7.

“Rogers said he and the mayor addressed this, and said the chief was available all hours of the day, and we see him available in town hall at all hours of the day and night,” LaGuerre testified, reading from his report.

LaGuerre said he did not feel the matter needed further investigation after his Aug. 14, 2014, interview with Rogers.

Around this time, Rogers instructed Demnitz not to accept any extra-duty jobs during weekdays.  In response to a PBA complaint, the chief said he also later agreed to forego his seniority privilege of choosing these jobs ahead of other officers, a precedent he said existed when he was hired in 1983.

At first, Demnitz testified, he only thought the town administration was looking into his situation.

Video: Officer Keith Hudson expresses concerns about the Secret Service:

The mayor had told him council members and business owners were complaining about seeing him working around town. Concerns were raised that he and a captain were seen working such gigs at the same time; Demnitz agreed this looked bad and asked the captain to refrain from taking freelance jobs that overlapped with his, he said.

On August 26, 2014, just weeks after Hudson went to the prosecutor, Demnitz approached him to inquire about recent changes in his “demeanor.”  Hudson’s side contends the chief was telegraphing that he was onto him; Demnitz said he was trying to show a fatherly interest.

“It’s a management style I’ve embraced. I’m the daddy of the organization. I’m supposed to care about my employees,” Demnitz said.

The chief would question Hudson’s “fitness for duty,” and he was sent for a mental health evaluation. The defense has tried to show that Hudson’s actions were colored by a difficult divorce that was finalized in 2014.

On Sept. 1, 2014, Demnitz emailed the Prosecutor’s Office asking if he was under investigation.  His suspicions, he said, were aroused when his administrative assistant advised him to keep his head up, and a superior officer told him “some people around here want to see you dragged out in handcuffs.”

Hudson testified his annual detective salary of $100,719 was reduced to $97,369 as a patrolman, because of a lost stipend for on-call duty, and this lowered the amount of money calculated toward his pension.

Demnitz testified that Hudson’s performance has “been exemplary” since his reassignment.

Under cross-examination Monday by Morristown counsel Brent Davis, Hudson acknowledged he is no fan of the chief.

“My opinion is, I think there can be a better job of oversight of the police department,” Hudson said.

MORE TRIAL COVERAGE

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