Final witnesses testify in Morristown cop whistleblower case

Courtroom adversaries Pete Demnitz, the Morristown police chief; and Officer Keith Hudson leave day six of trial, May 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Courtroom adversaries Pete Demnitz, the Morristown police chief; and Officer Keith Hudson leave day six of trial, May 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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In the sixth and final day of testimony, the jury in the Morristown police whistleblower case on Thursday heard from a psychologist, a former town administrator and, one more time, from Police Chief Pete Demnitz.

Officer Keith Hudson has sued the town for restoration of his detective’s status and lost stipends, plus damages for emotional distress stemming from his August 2015 reassignment.

He claims the move was retaliation by the chief, who was investigated (and cleared) by county authorities after Hudson reported his concerns that Demnitz was working side jobs on town time.

Demnitz contends he was unaware of Hudson’s role in the probe at the time he reassigned him. The move was over performance issues related to a pair of cases, the chief has testified before Superior Court Judge Louis Sceusi in Morristown.

On Thursday, the town’s defense lawyer, Brent Davis, presented witnesses meant to  poke holes in Hudson’s claims of emotional suffering, and to downplay the chief’s freelance jobs and any appearance of a vendetta against Hudson.

Psychologist Nancy Just testifies in Morristown police whistleblower case, May 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Psychologist Nancy Just testifies in Morristown police whistleblower case, May 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Based on a July 2017 interview of Hudson and a standard computerized evaluation she administered, psychologist Nancy Just concluded that while the officer reported embarrassment and frustration from his return to patrol duty, this did not rise to a clinical level of emotional distress.

Earlier this week, psychologist Sean Hiscox, testifying for Hudson’s side, said he had diagnosed the officer with “mild- to moderate emotional distress.”

Hiscox, like Just, interviewed Hudson roughly two years after his transfer from the detective bureau; lacked access to his medical records; and applied a (similar) standardized evaluation consisting of hundreds of true/false questions.

Both psychologists said Hudson represented that his police work never suffered, despite his displeasure with patrol duty and his perceived harassment by the chief.

Just testified that although Hudson was not happy about a patrol schedule that hindered his social life and attending hockey games, he did not report any sleeplessness, loss of appetite or panic attacks, either immediately following his reassignment, or in 2017.

“What struck me was, I expected him to say other things,” testified Just, whose practice is in Ridgewood.

The computerized evaluation she used, known as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, suggested Hudson “sees himself in an overly positive light, and has difficulty acknowledging personal faults that most people would acknowledge,” Just said.

GPS AUDITS AND EXTRA-DUTY SHIFTS

Briefly called back to the witness stand by the defense, Demnitz testified that Hudson was not targeted by a department-wide GPS audit of idle police vehicles.

Striving to bolster his client’s harassment claims, Hudson’s lawyer, Jeffrey Catrambone, got Demnitz to acknowledge under cross-examination that a pair of memos to Hudson never disclosed the investigation was across the entire patrol division.

Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz returns to the witness stand, May 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Morristown Police Chief Pete Demnitz returns to the witness stand, May 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

One communication simply informed Hudson he was being investigated because his vehicle was idle for more than an hour during a shift. The other told him he was exonerated of any wrongdoing, Demnitz testified.

Former town Administrator Michael Rogers testified he learned that the Morris County Prosecutor was investigating Demnitz’ extra-duty shifts in October 2014, when he was questioned under oath about the situation by investigators.

Shortly thereafter, Rogers issued a memo to Demnitz prohibiting the chief from working side security jobs during weekday business hours, and at any other time when his attendance was required for official duties.

Evidence introduced by Hudson’s legal team shows Demnitz worked dozens of freelance gigs–as many as three per day–between January and July 2014.

This was “not a revelation,” said Rogers, who testified he never had felt a need for a formal scheduling policy for Demnitz — who was considered on-call 24-7  — or for other nonunion department heads, as long as they put in their required 35 hours per week.

Former Morristown Administrator Michael Rogers takes question from attorney Jeffrey Catrambone, in police whistleblower trial, May 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Former Morristown Administrator Michael Rogers takes question from attorney Jeffrey Catrambone, in police whistleblower trial, May 24, 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“There was an understanding with department heads in general, and that includes the chief, as far as working 12 or 16 hours in one day, and having some flexibility, to make it up” by taking time off later, he said under cross-examination by Catrambone.

Rogers, who left Morristown in 2015 for a similar job in Summit, said he did not monitor Demnitz’ work schedule, nor were detailed records kept of it.

Davis circled back and asked Rogers if, prior to his October 2014 directive to Demnitz, he had any problem with the chief’s extra-duty assignments.

“I did not, and still didn’t, even when we issued this,” Rogers replied.

Hudson has asserted that he mentioned concerns about double-dipping by the chief to Rogers during police contract negotiations in 2014.

Rogers testified he could not remember such a conversation. Rather, he said, police sometimes complained about their internal policy for divvying up extra-duty jobs.

Previously in the civil trial, Demnitz acknowledged that he agreed, in response to rank-and-file gripes, to end a longstanding tradition that gave him first crack at such jobs.

Rogers also told the eight-member jury that he only learned of Hudson’s whistle-blowing in 2017, when lawyers deposed him for the case.

Jury deliberations are scheduled to start on Tuesday, after the Memorial Day weekend, Judge Sceusi told jurors.

MORE TRIAL COVERAGE

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