Typically in New Jersey, the highest-ranking sworn officer in the department is in charge of internal affairs investigations. The March 26 letter from the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office yanked that responsibility from Deputy Chief Dennis McFadden, calling him "ineffective in executing his official duties." (Police press releases refer to McFadden as "chief" despite his position as deputy chief, according to NJ Advance Media.)
With the arrival of the letter, Capt. Michael Dammann, who has not passed the captain's exam, is now required to cede control of internal affairs.
The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office's letter to Kenneth Lebrato, director of the Carteret Police Department, didn't pull any punches against Lebrato's new police colleagues. It also declared that Lebrato, a former assistant prosecutor for Middlesex County, is "uniquely qualified to assume these addition duties," the letter states, referring to internal affairs investigations, before continuing to note that Lebrato "recently retired in good standing."
Lebrato was sworn in as director on November 27, 2017. During the ceremony, Carteret Mayor Daniel Reiman said Lebrato spoke to Reiman's capacity to "improve the department" and "move the department forward."
Zellia Thomas, who is running as an at-large candidate for the city council in Patterson, New Jersey, told Sputnik the Carteret Police Department has long lacked accountability for its pervasive corruption.
"The people who are most vulnerable and most victimized; they know it [the corruption]. They knew that these instances are occuring. And they also know that when they file internal affairs complaints, they're not being sustained. There's no accountability to ensure that these internal affairs complaints are thoroughly investigated and the police are held responsible for their actions," Thomas said Friday.
"I remember maybe a year or two ago, a report was released that said that less than maybe 1 percent of internal affairs complaints in Central Jersey police departments were sustained — and that's lower than the national average, which is 6 percent, which is still extremely low," Thomas told Sputnik. Central Jersey includes Middlesex County, of which Carteret is a borough.
The problem isn't exactly limited either, Thomas noted. "Patterson is like 4 percent, everywhere else is like 3 percent or 4 percent. This is a real travesty and it's a reflection of what's going on all across the country, where we see videos of people being either brutalized or killed by police officers and nothing ever materializes from it."
The prosecutor's office's letter also notes a slew of "serious allegations" with regard to the use of excessive force by Carteret police officers.
The 50-officer department drew national attention after the violent May 31, 2017, arrest of a 16-year-old suspect. Pictures of the boy's heavily-bruised face went viral. The boy claimed officer Joseph Reiman, the brother of Mayor Daniel Reiman, grabbed him and punched him in the face and the back of the head repeatedly. He also said another officer kicked him in the face while Reiman handcuffed him.
— thoughtcrime (@RawDawgBuffalo) March 27, 2018
"They know how he [Reiman] is, and they just let him continue," one of the officers was recorded saying after the arrest. Reiman has been indicted on charges of official misconduct and assault, and also faces a lawsuit. While only at the department for less than two years, Reiman partook in more than a fifth of Carteret police's use of force. It was Dammann who dealt with many of the complaints against Reiman, according to residents who spoke with NJ Advance Media.
The prosecutor's office said last week that Carteret's police leaders were not properly conducting background checks on more than 36 gun permits and licenses. In New Jersey, the vetting of firearm ID applicants and handgun purchases is handled by local cops. State officers took over that responsibility earlier this month.
"It's very difficult in New Jersey to carry a gun unless you're a former police officer or can prove that your life is in constant threat and it's really difficult to get a gun permit and takes extremely long for that to go through," Thomas said before calling for an investigation.
"I feel that there needs to be an extra audit to see just exactly who these people were and how they were connected to these officers," Thomas said. "Were they given bribes or is there a personal connection that would allow them to get access to firearms without a background check?"