What is the price of a demotion?
If you’re Morristown Police Officer Keith Hudson, it could amount to nearly $200,000, an economist testified Wednesday in day five of Hudson’s whistle-blower case against the town.
Kristin Kucsma, a principal in the Sobel Tinari Economics Group in Livingston, based the estimate on Hudson’s loss of a $3,350 annual “on call” stipend he had received as a detective, plus lost pay for extra hours above that on-call time, and the impact those losses would have on his pension during retirement if he lives to age 80.
The calculation also factored in the lost value of a police vehicle Hudson was able to use while on call as a detective, Kucsma told the civil jury before Superior Court Judge Louis Sceusi.
Hudson, 38, was removed from the detective bureau by Police Chief Pete Demnitz in August 2015.
The chief has testified the reassignment was over performance issues. Hudson contends it was retaliation, after he reported Demnitz’ alleged double-dipping to the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office.
No criminal charges were pressed against the chief. But the town imposed limits on his freelancing.
Hudson is suing the town to restore his detective status and lost stipends, and for damages for humiliation and embarrassment.
Kucsma was called as a witness for Hudson. The town’s counsel, Brent Davis, challenged her methodology.
Under cross examination, the economist conceded her calculations counted periodic weekend use of a police vehicle as saving auto insurance costs for Hudson– when in fact, Hudson continued paying for insurance of his personal vehicle, just like he always did.
The jury also heard from Somerville clinical psychologist Sean Hiscox, another Hudson witness, who evaluated the officer twice in June 2017 and also interviewed his girlfriend.
Hiscox testified Hudson was a “stable, functioning individual,” who did his best to make a failing marriage work until finally divorcing in 2014. The next year, he grieved the loss of his grandmother, with whom he had lived for several years.
The psychologist said he did not believe those situations adversely impacted his police performance, however.
Rather, he said Hudson dealt with “adjustment disorder,” a common response to stress, for about nine months following his reassignment.
“He couldn’t see this coming. All of a sudden, he was demoted,” said Hiscox, describing his diagnosis as “mild- to moderate emotional distress.”
The psychologist testified the officer “said he was in shock for a period of time” after his removal from the detective bureau, where he spent six years and was the senior man. Hudson feared retaliation, was lethargic and disconnected from friends, and had issues with his girlfriend, the psychologist related.
Hudson did not seek counseling, however, according to his own testimony.
“He sucked it up and with all his energy tried to do the best he could, even under stress,” the psychologist said.
While the lawsuit has provided some measure of protection, Hudson still struggles occasionally, Hiscox said.
“He tends to wax and wane,” the psychologist testified.
Under cross-examination, Hiscox confirmed having noted Hudson had “a negative opinion of the chief, no doubt,” and also that the officer told him the police force was “dysfunctional” from the time he joined it in 2005.
They never discussed a February 2014 episode in which a superior officer disciplined Hudson for “yelling” at him, Hiscox said in response to a question from Davis. The chief has cited that episode as a factor influencing him to reassign Hudson.
The defense lawyer raised doubts about the psychologist’s diagnosis, pressing Hiscox to explain that it was based on the officer’s representations of what transpired nearly two years earlier, with some corroboration from Hudson’s girlfriend.
Hiscox did not interview Hudson during the period immediately following his reassignment, nor did he have access to the officer’s medical records, he acknowledged from the witness stand.