‘Motorcycle Squad Memories’: HCPO calls JCPD Lt. Majury to stand, testimony favors cops on trial
JCPD Lt. Robert Majury provided testimony regarding the Motorcycle Squad’s work to alleviate traffic related to the NJDOT’s Skyway Project in 2014, followed by North District Capt. Joseph Santiago answering questions about his off-duty practices.
The 11th day of The State of New Jersey vs Joseph Ascolese, Kelly Chesler, and Michael O’Neill featured two Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) superior officers, Lt. Robert Majury and Capt. Joesph Santiago, testifying on behalf of the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office (HCPO).
One day after HCPOmageddon, the atmosphere in the courtroom was tempered as both supervisors answered questions about the New Jersey Department of Transportation’s (NJDOT) Skyway Project and its impact on traffic in Jersey City – commonly referred to as Carmageddon throughout the trial.
If anything, Majury and Santiago appeared as two of the more credible witnesses to take the stand for the state in Hudson County Superior Court Judge Mirtha Ospina’s courtroom. In the case of Majury, though, it seemed as if his testimony was more favorable to the defendants than prosecutor.
JCPD Lt. Majury questioned on knowledge of Motorcycle Squad duties, HCPO investigation
Under direct examination from First Deputy Assistant Prosecutor Peter Stoma, Majury testified to working an NJDOT off-duty post on June 2, 2014, and working an NJDOT off-duty supervisor job on May 20, 2014.
On the 6/2/14 date, then-Sgt. Majury submitted a pay voucher for working the Columbus/Marin Blvd. post. Majury apparently handled traffic at the post with Officer Chino Kang, as both were listed on the master sheet and submitted vouchers for the post, yet they were booked at different times on Sgt. Kevin O’Mara’s patrol log.
The previous day, the accuracy of the start time listed on Kang’s voucher from 6/2/14 was called into question – specifically whether a 7 was changed to a 6.
Majury offered that he had an independent recollection of working the Columbus/Marin Blvd. post in general, and that he had an independent recollection of working with Kang in general, but that he had no independent recollection of working on 6/2/14 beyond the paperwork.
He also had no independent recollection of working a post with Officer Michael Maietti.
Maietti is a former co-defendant of retired Capt. Joseph Ascolese, Lt. Kelly Chesler, and Officer Michael O’Neill. Eighteen months after all four of the officers were indicted and lost their incomes, Maietti agreed to a plea deal which defense attorneys have characterized as generous – including a recent $80,000 settlement agreement with the Fulop Administration to apparently change his statements regarding a racially-charged JCPD Motorcycle Squad report.
Ascolese is accused of signing Maietti’s pay voucher knowing the officer didn’t perform the work. Maietti, who hasn’t testified yet, is the HCPO’s star witness.
Of note, Real Jersey City filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the settlement agreement on September 21, 2018, and has received an official response “that the City is conducting its search and two additional weeks are needed” for a document which the Fulop Administration clearly provided to the HCPO shortly before the trial started.
As for the 5/20/14 date, Stoma used it as an example to highlight the integrity of Majury’s off-duty paperwork. Majury, who kept significant notes on his supervisor patrol log, though, they didn’t help refresh his memory from the date, booked Kang for one hour because the officer was held over from the day tour – matching Kang’s voucher.
Majury also booked Officer Joseph Widejko that day and signed his voucher. For separate dates, Chesler is accused of signing three pay vouchers, totaling $600, knowing that Widejko didn’t perform the work.
On cross-examination, Jeffrey Garrigan, Chesler’s attorney, started by questioning Majury about his knowledge of Motorcycle Squad operations related to traffic in Downtown Jersey City during the Spring of 2014.
Majury ended up validating narratives raised by defense attorneys, specifically that Ascolese had a major role as Skyway Commander, and assumed the same for Chesler because she was second in command at the Special Patrol Bureau (SPB). The lieutenant testified that he had recollections of hearing Ascolese on radio transmissions related to the Skyway Project, including instructing officers to move.
A prolonged discussion about the traffic situation near the Columbus/Marin Blvd. post ensued, with Garrigan eventually bringing up cones and traffic signs which were setup going down to Hudson Street. It was Majury’s understanding that SPB members handled the cones and signs, but he didn’t have independent knowledge of their operation beyond that.
At that point, Garrigan introduced the statement Majury gave to HCPO Det. Michael Signorile and then-Sgt. Robert Sjosward of the JCPD Internal Affairs Unit (IAU) on January 26, 2016. The attorney noted that Majury told investigators he believed Columbus/Marin Blvd. may have been a three-man post at the time, but didn’t know if that was accurate or if SPB/Motorcycle Squad members sometimes filled a third post related to cone placement.
Garrigan followed-up on O’Mara’s patrol log that had different booking times for Majury (6:15 AM) and Kang (8:00 AM) on 6/2/14, which Majury told investigators may have happened because Kang was late.
The lieutenant was then asked by the attorney whether officers had to sign in at the district before working their post, which Majury confirmed happened at some point, but wasn’t sure if it wasn’t relevant to the indicted time period. The policy was apparently scrapped due to logistical issues.
Garrigan then went over multiple anomalies related to Majury’s paperwork, which the officer agreed happened at times due to the chaos of the Skyway Project, and not anything nefarious.
Charles Sciarra, O’Neill’s attorney, had Majury confirm that during his statement to the HCPO, though Sjosward was present, the JCPD IAU then-sergeant didn’t ask any questions. Through his questioning, Sciarra attacked the investigation leading to the indictments of the defendants – including the lack of records preserved and line of questioning by investigators during Majury’s 1/26/16 interview.
JCPD Capt. Joseph Santiago questioned on off-duty practices
Under direct examination from Stoma, Capt. Joseph Santiago spoke at length about how he would work off-duty supervisor jobs. Specific to the case, Santiago was questioned regarding the date of June 10, 2014.
According to then-Sgt. Santiago’s paperwork, the Routes 1&9/Duncan post was booked uncovered in his patrol log and marked uncovered on his pay voucher. Maietti submitted a voucher for that post on 6/10/14, but Santiago testified that he had no independent recollection of ever supervising the officer.
Ascolese is accused of signing Maietti’s pay voucher knowing the officer didn’t work. The defense has argued throughout the case that Motorcycle Squad officers were part of roving posts, and that Ascolese would consistently move officers as Skyway Commander to alleviate traffic – all in accordance with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the NJDOT.
On cross-examination, Robert Lytle, Ascolese’s attorney, questioned the North District Commander on his practice of managing officers “how he saw fit,” especially moving them between posts. Santiago stumbled in his response, eventually remembering that he did, in fact, move officers based on real-time traffic issues.
Santiago also testified that, at times, other supervisors would sign an officer’s voucher for a post assigned to his detail, admitting that he could’ve missed them on his route for a variety of reasons. He testified that he couldn’t recall giving permission, over the phone, to an officer to sign their voucher for him, but that it’s “not out of the realm of possibility.”
VIDEO OF CAPT. JOSEPH SANTIAGO TESTIMONY BELOW: