Borough police chief disputes grievance link in probe of officers

By Nick Norlen, Staff Writer
   Princeton Borough Police Chief Anthony Federico said this week that the internal investigation that led to the suspensions of three officers in his department began well before the filing of a February grievance by the police union representing them.
   The chief was responding to allegations that the probe was undertaken in retaliation against the union for filing the grievance with the state in February.
   The three officers, Sgt. Kenneth Riley, Sgt. Kevin Creegan and Officer William Perez — all of whom are former borough officers of the year — have been suspended pending an administrative probe by the department and a criminal investigation by the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office that could result in their termination.
   Two of the officers are on the Princeton Policeman’s Benevolent Association Local 130 executive board— Sgt. Creegan is a trustee and Officer Perez is the vice president.
   Their lawyer, PBA 130 attorney James Mets, has pointed out that their suspension shortly followed an “unfair practice” complaint he filed with the state’s Public Employment Relations Commission on behalf of PBA 130 on Feb. 1.
   The document, which alleges inappropriate administrative action against various members of the union and points to consistent disputes between the department’s administration and union members, ultimately requests PERC to “order the borough to cease and desist from engaging in retaliation and threats against PBA officials,” among other actions.
   A hearing has not yet been held by PERC.
   Chief Federico strongly denied allegations that administrative disciplinary actions taken against officers was due to their status as union members.
   He said Wednesday that the internal investigation into the officers began Jan. 14 — “well before any unfair labor practice was filed.”
   Moreover, Chief Federico pointed out Wednesday that Sgt. Creegan wasn’t even mentioned in the PERC complaint.
   Mr. Mets said he had not been aware of what date the internal investigation began, but he repeated his charge that there is a “two-tiered system of discipline” within the department.
   Meanwhile, Chief Federico said Wednesday the department will likely issue its internal findings to the Prosecutor’s Office some time this week.
   Chief Federico said that the officers, whom he did not name, were suspended after a complaint was filed by another unnamed officer.
   Though it is unclear what charges they face, James Ryan, a spokesman for the State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, said the charges stem from the trio’s questioning of “the handling of a motor vehicle stop involving a minority.” The state PBA has become involved in the case at the request of the local union and is providing legal advice.
   The officers involved in the motor vehicle stop were cleared but the now-suspended officers then came under investigation for allegedly tampering with those involved, Mr. Ryan said.
   Since the suspensions became public, Borough Councilman Roger Martindell has been critical of the fact that the officers are not working even though they are still being paid.
   In an e-mail sent to Mr. Martindell and other Borough Council members Thursday, Borough Administrator Bob Bruschi said the Prosecutor’s Office has “recognized the impact on the department as well as our desire to bring the matter to closure as very important and agreed to move as quickly as they can.”
   In an e-mail response copied to The Packet on Thursday, Mr. Martindell, said “that’s not good enough.”
   ”It’s a brush-off,” Mr. Martindell wrote to borough officials. “The prosecutor has an obligation to articulate why the officers have been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation. The borough administration has an obligation to articulate why the officers continue to receive pay while suspended. Neither explanation has been adequate to date; indeed, there has been no explanation at all.”
   Neither the Prosecutor’s Office nor Mr. Bruschi could be reached for comment Thursday.