Superior officers testify they disagreed with chief’s reassignment of whistle-blowing cop

Jeffrey Catrambone, lawyer for Officer Keith Hudson, questions Morristown Police Lt. Stuart Greer, May 22, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Jeffrey Catrambone, lawyer for Officer Keith Hudson, questions Morristown Police Lt. Stuart Greer, May 22, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Morristown Police Officer Keith Hudson, who was removed from the detective bureau in 2015 after reporting alleged double-dipping by Chief Pete Demnitz to authorities a year earlier, was a fine detective.

That’s according to two superior officers, who testified Tuesday in Superior Court that they disagreed with the chief’s reassignment of Hudson.

Captain Michael Buckley and Lt. Stuart Greer both said they tried to change the chief’s mind, but Demnitz held firm and instructed them not to communicate with Hudson after he informed Hudson of his reassignment via email on Aug. 1, 2015.

Morristown police Capt, Michael Buckley testifies in a civil case that challenges a former Detective Keith Hudson's reassignment, May 22, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown police Capt, Michael Buckley testifies in a civil case that challenges former Detective Keith Hudson’s reassignment, May 22, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Buckley also gave an account that differed from the chief’s on a key detail of the town’s defense.

Hudson, a 13-year police veteran, contends he was busted back to patrol duty in retaliation for bringing allegations to the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office that Demnitz was working side jobs on town time.

While no criminal charges resulted, the town banned the chief from freelancing on weekdays.

Hudson is suing the town to regain his detective position, along with restoration of lost stipends and damages for humiliation and embarrassment. 

Demnitz has testified he only learned of Hudson’s role in the Prosecutor’s probe from a newspaper account of the officer’s whistle-blower lawsuit, weeks after he reassigned Hudson.

Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz, left, and Officer Keith Hudson , courtroom adversaries, share light moment before fourth day of Hudson's civil case challenging his reassignment, May 22, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz, left, and Officer Keith Hudson, courtroom adversaries, share light moment before day four of Hudson’s civil case challenging his reassignment, May 22, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

On Monday, the chief told a jury in Judge Louis Sceusi’s courtroom that he removed Hudson from the detective bureau based on two performance issues raised by Buckley on July 29, 2015, during a conversation on a chaotic day when the Secret Service arrested an armed man at Headquarters Plaza.

The chief said Buckley told him Hudson — his senior detective with six years’ experience — balked at investigating the case, feeling it belonged to the Secret Service.

And, the chief testified, Buckley also mentioned Hudson had been sent home by Greer back in February 2014,  as a disciplinary measure during an investigation of a drug deal shooting on Lincoln Street.

But under questioning on Tuesday by Hudson’s lawyer, Jeffrey Catrambone, Buckley acknowledged a memo indicating Greer never apprised him of that incident until Aug. 13, 2015 — 12 days after Hudson’s removal from the detective bureau.

Buckley, like the chief, said he was unaware of Hudson’s allegations against Demnitz at that time. He too, learned about that from the October 2015 news account, according to his testimony.

‘I COULD HAVE HANDLED IT’

The Headquarters Plaza episode did worry Buckley. Hudson’s version is that he simply raised concerns about the Secret Service, based on its handling of a prior case.

Buckley, however, interpreted Hudson’s comment that day at the police station as “not wanting to get involved.”

The Headquarters Plaza suspect wore a bullet-proof vest and carried two handguns with deadly hollow-point bullets; he later was convicted of weapons charges.

“We have a guy with multiple weapons in his possession, with ammunition, in close proximity to a daycare center and a hotel, during daylight hours, and it’s just something you have to take serious,” testified Buckley, a 23-year veteran of the force.

Yet the captain also regarded Hudson as a fine detective. He closed cases without needing much supervision, and was admired by colleagues. Buckley said he disagreed with the reassignment.

“I felt that I could have handled it,” Buckley testified.

Morristown Police Lt. Stuart Greer testifies in civil case brought by Officer Keith Hudson, seated in foreground, May 22, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Police Lt. Stuart Greer testifies in civil case brought by Officer Keith Hudson, seated in foreground, May 22, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Greer gave a similar account of the Headquarters Plaza exchange. Though he could not recall Hudson’s precise words, Greer considered the detective’s remark “inappropriate.”

“The perception I got was, ‘Why are we handling this?'” Greer testified.

Yet Hudson’s reassignment took Greer by surprise, and he called the chief attempting to intervene. Greer characterized Hudson as a good detective, whose performance did not appear to suffer during a divorce– something the defense has implied.

Greer acknowledged sending Hudson home in early 2014. Both men were “frustrated” as they performed surveillance of the Lincoln Street shooting suspects, Greer said.

When the suspects finally were pulled over on Hamilton Street, “Keith approached and was extremely upset about the time taken to conduct the stop. He started yelling… I finally said ‘enough,’” Greer testified.

Back at the police station, Greer reprimanded Hudson.

“Why don’t you get out of here and go home?” Greer said he told Hudson. “I believe I said take the next day and cool off.”

Catrambone, the attorney, asked Greer if he thought this was a valid reason to boot Hudson from the detective bureau.

“Personally, I do not,” Greer answered.

‘MODEL OFFICER’

In a curious coda to Hudson’s reassignment, Buckley sent the Prosecutor’s Office an email documenting the Lincoln Street incident “to cover myself,” in anticipation of a lawsuit by Hudson.

Under questioning by the town’s lawyer, Brent Davis, Buckley said Demnitz then emailed the Prosecutor’s Office to clarify that it was Greer, not Hudson, who they wanted the county to investigate–ostensibly to determine if the lieutenant authorized paying Hudson for the day he spent cooling off at home in February 2014.

Buckley said the chief told him, “They’re looking into my time, and if they’re investigating me” they have to look at what others in the department are doing.

The captain blamed a “miscommunication” for his “badly worded” email to the Prosecutor’s Office.

County investigators found no criminal wrongdoing by Greer and referred the time sheet discrepancy back to the police department, testified Greer. He was unaware he had been investigated until Hudson’s lawyer told him last fall, he said.

In other testimony, Lt. Michael Molnar said some officers show anger when they are reassigned. Not Hudson. On his first day back in patrol, he conducted himself like a pro.

“He was a model officer,”  Molnar said.

The civil trial in Morristown is scheduled to enter its fifth day on Wednesday.

MORE TRIAL COVERAGE

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