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Police Chief Suspended Without Pay, Accused of Insubordination

Police Chief Suspended Without Pay, Accused of Insubordination

Edison Police Chief Thomas Bryan, pictured here in a 2009 file photo, was suspended by Mayor Antonia Ricigliano for alleged insubordination.

The Star-Leger via YellowBrix

March 23, 2011

EDISON — Amid an increasingly divisive battle for control of the Edison Police Department, Mayor Antonia Ricigliano suspended Chief Thomas Bryan without pay Tuesday, citing allegations of insubordination and a failure to follow orders.

Bryan, 51, was informed of the suspension during a 10:30 a.m. meeting with the township’s business administrator, Dennis Gonzalez, who handed him a list of six administrative charges. A seventh charge of insubordination was added later in the morning.

The counts relate to Bryan’s oversight of the 186-member force and do not allege criminal wrongdoing.

“We need to move the town forward with more efficiencies,” Gonzalez said, declining to elaborate.

Ricigliano, in a brief interview, called the suspension a “dramatic” but necessary step she did not take lightly. She said Deputy Chief Carmelo Vaticano would oversee the department in Bryan’s absence.

According to a copy of the charges obtained by The Star-Ledger, Bryan allegedly failed to issue written reprimands, failed to provide training for the communications division and did not lay off two part-time youth counselors, as directed by the administration, in a timely manner, among other counts.

He also was accused of permitting dissemination of false information about the mayor and her administration.

The additional insubordination charge stemmed from the chief’s refusal to turn over his service weapon, badge and the keys of his town-owned car to Vaticano. Bryan instead surrendered them to a fellow officer.

He remained in his office — the door locked — for about two hours after his meeting with the business administrator.

“It took a little time,” Gonzalez said. “The chief wanted to think about the circumstances and make phone calls to get advice.”

Bryan referred calls to his lawyer, Damian Shammas, who blasted the move as political meddling and a violation of state rules he said prohibit interference in a chief’s operation of his or her department.

“We are very confident the chief will be vindicated and the charges dismissed,” Shammas said.

The son of an Edison police officer, Bryan enjoyed a swift rise through the ranks. He was a lieutenant in charge of the internal affairs unit when, in 2008, then-Mayor Jun Choi tapped him as deputy chief ahead of several captains. Less than a year later, he was named chief.

The move by Ricigliano is the latest and most dramatic chapter in a long-running struggle for control of the force in New Jersey’s fifth-largest municipality.

Unhappy with Choi’s directives in the department, including his appointment of Bryan, many officers campaigned vigorously for Ricigliano.

After winning election, Ricigliano swiftly rolled back nearly a dozen police promotions made by Choi, citing the need to save money and to put more officers on the streets. Most of those officers have since filed suit.

South Brunswick Police Chief Raymond Hayducka, second vice president of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, called Bryan’s suspension “clear-cut harassment” and said the chief was denied due process because he did not receive a hearing prior to Ricigliano’s order.

The suspension also fired up several township council members who have been openly warring with the mayor, her business administrator and Ricigliano’s aide, William Stephens.

Earlier this month, the council issued subpoenas to all three, claiming they were not forthcoming with information. One point of contention centered on Ricigliano’s police department demotions.

Councilwoman Melissa Perilstein on Tuesday called Bryan’s suspension “reckless,” saying the chief has an “impeccable” record spanning 27 years.

“They better damn well have a good reason,” Perilstein said. “This administration is nothing short of incompetent.”

Bryan’s suspension from the $165,000-a-year post will last at least until April 15, when he is scheduled to receive a hearing on the charges. Depending on the outcome, he could be reinstated or remain on unpaid suspension pending further action by the administration.

If a hearing officer rules against him, he may appeal the decision in Superior Court.

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