Investigation: No officer talked to Howell mayor


Staff Writer

HOWELL — A police internal affairs investigation launched on Jan. 23 following allegations made by the mayor against a councilman has been closed.

The investigation concluded that Mayor Joseph M. DiBella’s allegations of impropriety by Councilman Bob Walsh and unnamed Howell police officers were unfounded.

Investigators determined that DiBella had not been truthful when he stated in a Jan. 22 e-mail to Walsh that he had received a “very disturbing phone call from a Howell police officer who insists they remain nameless” and that the officer had called him offering to disclose information about Walsh’s alleged involvement in a recall effort being mounted against DiBella.

Since a group of residents filed a notice in January of their intent to recall DiBella, Walsh has publicly stated that he is not involved with nor does he support that effort.

According to a Feb. 8 memo from Police Chief Ronald T. Carter to Township Manager Bruce Davis, “The investigation revealed that Mayor DiBella never actually received a telephone call from a Howell police officer, but in fact received all this information from former Councilman Wayne Lucey.”

Lucey served as a councilman in 2005. He lost to Walsh in the November election and was later appointed by the Township Council to a position on the Manasquan River Regional Sewerage Authority.

Carter’s e-mail states impropriety was alleged by DiBella, to have been committed by a Howell police officer.

When asked whether he had been contacted by a police officer as he had alleged in his e-mail to Walsh, DiBella initially declined to directly answer, but then said, “I was only contacted by Mr. Lucey.”

He criticized the newspaper for publishing the fact that an investigation into the matter had been launched. DiBella said he believes the matter was “a non-news story” and said the newspaper is trying to create news rather than report it.

Commenting on the findings of the investigation, Walsh said, “I am saddened by the fact that the mayor would not only lie about me, but would allege illegal activity by one or more of our police officers.”

Howell Police Department regulations prohibit officers from directly contacting elected officials. An officer found to have violated that regulation would be subject to disciplinary action ranging from suspension to termination of employment.

DiBella asserted in his e-mail to Walsh that the officer who contacted him informed him that on-duty officers were being asked to obtain signatures from voters on petitions seeking a recall of the mayor.

Carter said officers are not permitted to perform any political duties while in uniform on duty. An officer who violates that regulation would be subject to disciplinary action.

Walsh said he is going to ask DiBella and the rest of the council to instruct Township Attorney Thomas Gannon to seek a court order that would make the entire content of the investigation’s findings available to the public. Walsh said he will also look into what sanctions, if any, can be imposed against the mayor for his actions in the matter.

When informed of Walsh’s comments, DiBella said, “He’s been a councilman for a handful of months, he needs to get up to speed on what’s happening in the municipality and stop with the political games.”

DiBella said Walsh owes him an apology for even suggesting he had lied to the people of Howell, “because that has never happened.”

As to the content of his e-mail to Walsh, DiBella said he had not been aware that the actions he was alleging had been committed by any police officer would constitute any breach of department policy.

“At no time were my remarks ever designed to bring any difficulty to the PBA. I have the highest respect for the department as a whole. We have one of the finest departments,” the mayor said.

According to Carter’s memo, Lucey told investigating officer Capt. Steven Dreher he had relayed the information about the recall petition to DiBella, but claims he “never told the mayor that officers would be doing such activities while on duty.”

When asked to comment on the fact that Lucey’s recounting of their conversation differed from his, DiBella said, “I disagree with his recollection.”

Contacted for comment, Lucey said he had nothing further to say about the matter other than what was contained in Carter’s memo or the content of the investigation.

DiBella said he got a telephone call from Lucey telling him that he, Lucey, had been at municipal court when he was approached by a Howell police officer. DiBella said Lucey went on to report to him the officer’s allegations concerning Walsh and certain other unnamed police officers and relayed the petition information as reported in DiBella’s e-mail to Walsh.

DiBella said he then conveyed the information to Walsh in the manner he did so as not to exacerbate the bad blood that already existed between Walsh and Lucey, who squared off in last fall’s election

Howell PBA Local 228 Vice President Cpl. Guy Arancio said the PBA is concerned about the matter. He said the PBA executive board would meet and decide what action, if any, will be taken.