Jury deliberations resume Wednesday in civil case of former Hamburg cop

Sunday, July 2nd, 2017 - Resume

Posted: Jul. 2, 2017 12:01 am

SUPERIOR COURT — Jury deliberations will continue Wednesday in the civil case in which a former Hamburg police officer says he was harassed out of his job because he complained about what he saw as illegal activity within the department.

The six-person jury got the case mid-afternoon Friday after four days of testimony and was sent home for a long weekend by Superior Court Judge Frank DeAngelis about 5 p.m. DeAngelis said he would give the jurors a longer weekend before continuing deliberations.

On Friday the jury heard the last of the testimony of Daniel Farruggio, the police officer who worked for the Hamburg department from his hiring in late 2009 until his formal resignation in May 2013.

He is alleging, under the state’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act, that he was physically and mentally abused by two superiors in the department and that the ill treatment began after he refused to dismiss a parking ticket when told to do so by then-Sgt. David McNulty and Police Director Wayne Yahm.

McNulty was later demoted to patrolman for unrelated issues and is still on the Hamburg police force.

With Farruggio on the stand for cross-examination Friday morning, defense attorney John Bowens took him through several sets of answers he had given — interrogatories, depositions, during an unemployment hearing and court testimony — on his medical history and a petty theft charge.

Farruggio was suspended on Feb. 8, 2013, when an investigation was begun by McNulty of the employment application Farruggio filed before he was hired in 2009. At the same time, he was told he was also under investigation by the Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office about incorrect/missing statements on a pistol permit application he had filed the previous month in Hardyston.

Bowens also challenged Farruggio as to why he wouldn’t dismiss the traffic ticket even after McNulty and Yahm told him the person getting the ticket — the wife of a corrections officer — had been told she could park in the no-parking zone at Hamburg School.

Yahm was recalled to the stand Friday for the limited purpose of identifying a psychological fitness report ordered for Farruggio immediately after he was suspended.

He was also asked about how police officers in Hamburg obtain criminal background checks. Yahm said officers in the field go through the dispatcher in Andover Township or, if in the office, use a state-owned and controlled computer there.

One issue in the trial was that the petty theft charge to which Farruggio pleaded guilty and for which he paid a fine and did community service when he was in high school apparently doesn’t show up on a criminal background check.

The pistol permit application in Hardyston shows Farruggio answered “no” to the question of whether he had ever been convicted of a disorderly persons charge. In two earlier pistol permit applications, filed in 2009, he had answered “yes” to a similar question.

Also missing from the Hardyston application was an affirmative answer to whether Farruggio had been “confined or committed” to a mental hospital or institution. Again, he had answered yes on the earlier permits.

As a 14-year-old, Farruggio began having anxiety issues, he testified, and spend one night in St. Clare’s Hospital for what he thought was a program for coping. He was discharged the next morning.

Bowens also tried to impeach Farruggio on a visit to Morristown Memorial Hospital’s emergency room, claiming that was also an commitment or confinement.

In that case, the former officer said he went to the emergency room to get a prescription rewritten because his regular doctor’s office was closed for the weekend.

In his summation to the jury, Bowens several times said Farruggio had intentionally lied on the application and tried to cast doubt on all of his testimony.

Farruggio’s attorney, Louis Barbone, said there were simple explanations for the incorrect answers in Hardyston and that Farruggio had been open and truthful about overcoming his mental health issues, both in his employment and firearms applications as well with co-workers and former Police Chief Jan Wright, who recommended he be hired.

Wright retired on Feb. 1, 2012, and later that month the Hamburg Borough Council hired Yahm as police director, a civilian post that has no law enforcement powers.

Among Farruggio’s complaints to then-Sgt. McNulty, who was officer in charge of the department, was that Yahm appeared to be violating state laws and regulations by accessing internal affairs documents, using police-only computers to access and make changes to files.

Farruggio also complained to Yahm about his treatment by McNulty, which included slapping his head and using derogatory language toward the officer and in reference to Farruggio’s wife. The officer said he was also put on 12-hour night shifts for an extended period of time and made to clean the bathrooms and kitchen in police headquarters.

Under the state’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act, Farruggio has to show that his resignation in May was not solely because he was facing charges involving the Hardyston gun permit application, but because of ill treatment at work in retaliation to his complaints.

His lawsuit does not specify any dollar amount but asks for compensatory, consequential and punitive damages, as well as re-employment and benefits and attorney fees. It also asks that the borough pay a civil fine of up to $20,000 for violation of CEPA.

 

Bruce A. Scruton can also be contacted on Twitter: @brucescrutonNJH or by phone: 973-383-1224.

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