Jersey City police OPRA corruption worse under ex-Deputy AG of Corruption Peter Baker
This isn’t a critique of the Jersey City Police Department, it’s a call for the Law Department under ex-Deputy AG Peter Baker to be held accountable for their Open Public Records Act corruption.
For those following Real Jersey City, Public Safety Director James Shea’s history of disregard for the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) has been… well documented.
Deep in an article covering New Jersey Advance Media’s (NJAM) project investigating police Use-of-Force (UoF) reports, reference was made to the questionable handling of public records by the Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) under Shea – which apparently is worse than ever since ex-Deputy AG Peter Baker took over the Law Department.
This piece will examine the specific issue raised by NJAM regarding Shea’s handling of public records, Baker’s background related to Jersey City, and two simple examples of OPRA corruption in Jersey City.
JCPD handling of UoF Reports
“James Shea, the city’s director of public safety, acknowledged the department failed to provide all use-of-force forms in response to NJ Advance Media’s public records request,” wrote Stephen Stirling and S.P. Sullivan. “Shea said some use-of-force reports had been misfiled during the department’s shift from a paper system to a computerized one.”
Some may have went missing, some may have never existed at all, but Shea told NJAM that the department launched an “internal investigation” to find the missing forms…
Of interest, the testimony of a lieutenant in Shea’s Internal Affairs Unit (IAU), which highlights the “integrity” of the unit, was removed from YouTube due to a “privacy complaint.” Luckily, Facebook let me upload it so everyone can see for themselves what a JCPD IAU supervisor under cross-examination looks like:
Patrick Colligan, President of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association (NJSPBA), says the NJAM story on UoF reporting lacks context without “supplemental reports and witness statements” which would “tell the whole story.”
Needless to say, the NJAM project is comprehensive, insightful, and a resource for the public. Though Colligan makes some decent points, disregarding it as “clickbait” undermines legitimate questions regarding context and implications.
Ultimately, the statement that Jersey City police officers reported their use-of-force “at a rate lower than 356 other police departments, despite having one of the higher violent crime rates” raises uncomfortable questions. I’ve got a feeling they’ll be doing a follow-up on that, I’ll try to do one myself (but no promises).
All that said, at least NJAM is attempting to do some real reporting on the JCPD and not wasting barrels of ink. I’m assuming Colligan knows the mutual benefits of a local newspaper and police union in cahoots (quality crime stories, favoritism and cover-ups).
Peter Baker: The Great Hope of Corruption
A wise man once said “this is Hudson County, where Corruption is King” – which should make every concerned citizen wonder why the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General (NJOAG) has failed to address questions of corruption in Jersey City.
That includes everything from Mayor Fulop’s aides talking about “the kind of shit where motherfuckers go to jail” on a voicemail, to Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez covering-up ex-JCPD Chief Phil Zacche’s no-show, off-duty job in the Jersey City Housing Authority while prosecuting whistleblowers for de minimis.
I have less reason to believe in the NJOAG’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) than Katie Brennan.
From all the press events with Suarez, it feels like Gov. Phil Murphy and Attorney General Gurbir Grewal have no intention to reform the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office (HCPO).
As for Peter Baker, he worked in the NJOAG Official Corruption Bureau and was purportedly involved with prosecuting criminal activity related to public corruption. Before that, he worked as an assistant prosecutor in the HCPO – which doesn’t have a stellar record of busting public corruption (on top of a bad record prosecuting violent criminals terrorizing communities).
“After an aggressive and deliberate search for an experienced and dedicated candidate, I am beyond proud to announce the addition of Peter Baker to our team,” Mayor Steven Fulop said in a statement announcing his corporation counsel in March of this year.
“As a Deputy Attorney General and former Hudson County Assistant Prosecutor, Peter’s work on high profile cases has exemplified the kind of skill, commitment and ambition that is perfectly aligned with our City and this Administration.”
On the night he was confirmed, I asked Baker why the NJOAG didn’t investigate corruption in Jersey City – corruption that I reported to the NJOAG. Baker recognized that he had a “conflict of interest,” recused himself from any matters and couldn’t comment as to why others in the NJOAG didn’t take action.
Of note, in a Jersey Journal story covering Fulop’s announcement, Terrence McDonald exclusively reported that Baker’s wife, Megan Morey, was an attorney in the city’s law department from December 2013 until January of this year. McDonald noted that “Morey hosted a fundraiser for Fulop’s re-election at Liberty Prime Steakhouse on Nov. 1, 2016,” about a month after Fulop dropped out of the 2017 governor’s race.
Let’s just say I have reason to doubt that Baker is any more ethical than some of the people he has sent to prison. The Law Department’s handling of my OPRA requests, at least the two about to be mentioned in this piece, highlight the pattern of corruption that is never held accountable.
Concealing public records to protect Internal Affairs
You know what’s the gift that keeps on giving? Real Jersey City’s investigation of JCPD Lt. Terrence Crowley. If you haven’t seen it before, take a quick look below because it’s going to cost taxpayers a lot of money for covering it up:
Unfortunately, public corruption does have a financial cost and taxpayers always foot the bill. The follow-up investigation by the JCPD IAU to the Real Jersey City report, specifically the role of Sgt. Robert Sjosward, could cost Jersey City taxpayers millions.
If and when retired JCPD Capt. Joesph Ascolese and Lt. Kelly Chesler resume their lawsuit against the Fulop Administration, Sjosward’s investigations will prove costly for the city.
Remember that Chesler alleged Crowley created a “hostile” environment based on her gender, yet he was given a pass on Real Jersey City’s full-of-actual-evidence investigation – not the only off-duty investigation Crowley was given a slap on the wrist for.
At the same time IAU was letting Crowley off-the-hook, they were maliciously investigating Ascolese and Chesler. Sjosward’s investigation of a female whistleblower, directed by Shea, ultimately resulted in the HCPO dropping indicted charges before they even rested their case.
Jersey City taxpayers will likely pay a pretty penny for that, and the response provided by Baker’s Law Department to OPRA request R002754-091818 highlights how the pattern of corruption continues under the ex-Deputy AG from the NJOAG’s Official Corruption Bureau.
Specifically, during the The State of New Jersey vs Joseph Ascolese, Kelly Chesler, and Michael O’Neill it was revealed that off-duty patrol logs were filled out by supervisors. Anomalies related to supervisor patrol logs were a major part of Sjosward’s investigation, but he didn’t do a very thorough review of the paperwork as HCPO First Deputy Assistant Prosecutor Peter Stoma learned during the trial.
On September 18, 2018, I requested Crowley’s off-duty patrol log sheets from 1-12-16, 1-22-16, and 1-27-16. On November 26, 2018, I got a very telling response from the Fulop Administration – specifically that the patrol log from 1-22-16 wasn’t included.
That’s alarming because Crowley accepted responsibility for leaving 3 hours early on 1-22-16. He was supposed to fill out a patrol log that day, but did he? If he didn’t, why wasn’t he punished? Or did Baker’s Law Department actively participate in concealing the document to protect the JCPD IAU?
For those wondering why they would conceal the document, just look at the patrol log from 1-27-16.
On that date, Crowley took responsibility for leaving his assignment at 21:20 hours – yet he booked 3 posts on his patrol log from after that time. Did Sjosward question Crowley on what we now know was a fraudulent patrol log?
Better yet, how do we know P.O. Valencia worked the post on 1-27-16 if he was booked at 21:30? Who signed his pay voucher and when?
That’s only 10 minutes of overlap for Valencia on 1-27-16, a day Crowley admitted to leaving one hour and forty minutes early. Imagine what the patrol log looks like from 1-22-16 given that he left three hours early.
Understanding what the documents represent, it’s not surprising Baker’s team concealed the patrol log by withholding it from a public records request. Furthermore, I’m sure it doesn’t take more than two months to get a basic document that should be on file in the JCPD IAU office.
By the Law Department dragging their feet, it shows Baker’s disdain for ethical and transparent government. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only critical OPRA request the Fulop Administration is playing games with.
Reckless behavior in Bayside Park
Ironically, it’s the most trivial incident which highlights Baker’s disdain for ethical and transparent government – specifically OPRA request R002791-092118.
That request was filed on September 21, 2018, and asked for “all CCTV footage monitoring Bayside Park parking lot on 9-20-18 between 4 AM to 6 AM.”
The city has failed to provide responsive records, claiming multiple times that it is “conducting its search and two additional weeks are needed”… for the past two months.
It’s a blatantly false response, it doesn’t take two months to search for CCTV footage. As well, according to sources, the video I requested was obtained by JCPD IAU on 9-20-18 because the incident resulted in a police officer sustaining serious injuries.
Apparently, while patrolling Bayside Park, an officer was standing on the hood of a moving police vehicle when another officer operating the vehicle made a sharp turn. The initial story officers provided didn’t match up with video of the incident, police dispatches captured some of that story – audio can be found below:
The incident might seem minor, but it’s clear officers involved were initially dishonest about what had occurred. What if Baker knows one of the officers might be under investigation for robbing a DWI suspect during a sobriety test (which the driver apparently passed)?
Otherwise, why the lack of a response – especially when I requested the wrong times? The request was from 4 AM to 6 AM, but the incident happened around 2 AM.
They could’ve just provided me video of nothing; or they could release what I’m looking for; or they could just deny the request.
Instead, the Fulop Administration’s Law Department under Baker would rather continue the pattern of corruption barely touched on by NJM’s report – which lacks a lot of context.