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Police Captain to Fight Disciplinary Charges in Court

Following an internal affairs investigation, the borough has brought administrative charges against Capt. Joseph Cook, his attorney said.

Fair Lawn Capt. Joseph Cook, whose conduct was the subject of a recent internal affairs investigation, will fight the administrative charges brought against him by the borough and seek a hearing before the Office of Administrative Law in Newark, his attorney Patrick Toscano said.

“Captain Cook is a terrific law enforcement officer, who has served the residents of Fair Lawn with distinction and dedication for almost 3 decades,” Toscano, whose Caldwell-based firm specializes in law enforcement defense work, wrote in an email. “He has done absolutely nothing violative of any rule or regulation at any time.”

Borough officials declined to say what provoked the investigation into Cook, but have confirmed that he was out of the office on paid administrative leave for much of June while the investigation took place.

In early July, following its investigation, the borough brought administrative charges against Cook, Toscano said. According to Toscano, the borough gave the captain two options upon his return to the department: accept a demotion to Lieutenant or take a suspension.

Cook found neither option acceptable, and will instead seek a hearing to determine his fate, Toscano said.

Borough manager Tom Metzler declined to discuss Cook’s case specifically, but said generally that the borough has a policy of progressive discipline that escalates from verbal warning to written warning to minor discipline (one to four days off) to major discipline (five or more days off). An employee has the right to appeal only a major disciplinary charge, he said.

While Cook has the right to a municipal hearing before the borough manager or a private hearing officer, he has decided to bypass that option, Toscano said.

“My client has been administratively charged, and we are exercising his statutory rights by waiving the municipal hearing below and going directly to the OAL (Office of Administrative Law) in Newark for his full hearing,” he wrote in an email. “At that hearing in Newark, we anticipate his being fully/totally absolved of any/all charges.  He did absolutely nothing wrong, and is the model law enforcement officer.”

A date for Cook’s hearing in Newark has yet to be set, but in the event that he changes his mind and seeks a court date in Fair Lawn, the borough has retained an administrative hearing officer.

On Tuesday, the borough hired Joseph L. Verruni, a , to hear municipal disciplinary cases at a cost not to exceed $5,000.

In the interim, Cook has returned to his previous job within the department, Metzler confirmed.

Were Cook eventually demoted to Lieutenant, it is not clear who would fill the department’s open captain spot. The only current officer within the department who has passed the captain’s test is Lt. Bob Kneer, a 39-year force veteran who has filed suit against both Cook and Police Chief Erik Rose.

In his suit, Kneer alleges Cook and Rose created a hostile work environment by making demeaning and derisive comments about his age – Kneer was the second oldest officer in the department at the time the suit was brought in 2011 -- and repeatedly denied him promotion despite his qualifications and expressed interest in the position of captain.

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LongTIMEcomin July 19, 2012 at 09:07 PM
I get a 401k too from my job, but I'm not a fireman or teacher or cop, and their sacrifice for the public is deserving of the public's best effort. I don't think Fair Lawn is doing its best, let alone we had an officer murdered here. My belief is, the better we treat our civil servants the better civil servant we receive!
Chris Antonelli July 19, 2012 at 09:15 PM
Ya know what? I sacrifice my freedom everyday. One wrong move at work that I can't explain and I'm looking at prison. And a ton of legal fees.
LongTIMEcomin July 19, 2012 at 09:24 PM
Now Chris your either being silly or just jealous. Truth be told my private sector job has rewarded me more money and than any public sector job. Public workers deserve better, they serve the public. Nobody will argue this.
Bruce Knuckle July 19, 2012 at 10:21 PM
I reserve judgement til' the hearing is published. It would be nice to know what he was charged with, especially since he is high in command in a department that has been riddled with lawsuits. Nice fluffy reporting..... is anybody concerned with the department that ensures our well being? Why is the police chief stil lin office???
LongTIMEcomin July 19, 2012 at 10:40 PM
Knuckle, my goodness, what are they saying he did? "According to Toscano, the borough gave the captain two options upon his return to the department: accept a demotion to Lieutenant or take a suspension".
Bruce Knuckle July 20, 2012 at 01:05 AM
Not quite sure because its not anywhere in this story. I can only imagine it must be bad for a civil servant to be given those 2 options. Its no mystery as to why he would pursue a hearing. The chief and council's record for losing is only to be rivaled by the 62' Mets.
Marty Cone July 20, 2012 at 04:09 AM
Seems like the Captain got caught doing something pretty bad. If progressive discipline is the norm, I can only imagine that he did something very inappropriate or illegal. If so, he should be fired. No one in that position should get away with either. Maybe there is something to all of those lawsuits. Time to take a good look at the department.
michael cassella July 20, 2012 at 04:54 AM
The longer that a PO is on the force, the bigger jerk he becomes. Some (or should I say most) cops begin to believe that they are above the law and start doing things that are totally unaccepatble in general but feel that it is their right as a "guardian" of the public to get away with anything that they want to. As a longtime FL resident, I have seen this happen many times in the past 30 years. They should be no different than the general public and face up to the facts and take the penalty when they screw up and not hide behind the idea of "I'm an officer of the law and I can do whatever the hell I want to".
Cindy Evans July 20, 2012 at 10:43 AM
Whether you like him or not, he deserves his day in court just like anyone else. Let's reserve judgement until the case is decided. You would want the same courtesy if it was you.
Kristine Liggieri July 20, 2012 at 12:38 PM
Chris.....I agree with "long time coming" when you put your life on the line everyday like police officers do I believe when they retire they should with health benefits....I'm pretty sure when you leave for work in the morning your not contemplating maybe not coming home to your family at night...
come on people July 20, 2012 at 01:37 PM
listen i respect the work our police men do but im pretty sure they are all 99.9% sure they are coming home to thier family at night. i know we tragically lost a great officer and person and i dont mean to be little that. but besides that can anyone recall the last time anything like that has happened. can anyone name any other fl police officer killed in the line of duty. do roofers deserve 150k a year and great benefits because thier job is a lot riskier than a police officer. if your really talking about jobs where you put "your life on the line" a police officer in fair lawn nj is way down the list. and our cops have it pretty good, there are 27 year olds in our police staff who make over 90k and great benefits. i doubt many 27 yr olds in the private sector have it that good.
Just Facts July 20, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Hey people - so I guess we need more dead cops for us to appreciate the police?? Check the paper lately?? Paterson right next to us has shootings every night..... While you are sleeping under your cieling fan.....eating holiday food ....attending a weekend party the police are working... dealing with the scum of society ... people you probably would run away from,,, I appreciate the police ..firefighters....and if you check facts... they are NOT the reason for high taxes....
Just Facts July 20, 2012 at 03:49 PM
Ohh and by the way.... More Police Officers die annually than roofers.... Its about double..... get the facts
OhMy July 20, 2012 at 04:12 PM
http://fairlawn.patch.com/articles/woman-sentenced-for-running-over-fair-lawn-police-officer
Go Figure July 20, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Come on People: You are clueless. Bad things through ACCIDENTS happen to people every day, but when a police officer is killed it is usually because someone has violently done it. Also I know a very high number of police officers and corrections officers are injured each year. You are way off base with this one. They have a job most people wouldn't want or be able to do. I for one will always respect that and appreciate it.
Tony Dadika July 20, 2012 at 04:42 PM
no coment,, untill all the facts are known.
come on people July 20, 2012 at 05:17 PM
ok and our average police makes over 100 k has great benefits and get to retire a lot earlier than most of us. its a dangerous job but why should they get benefits after they retire- they are no longer performing that dangerous job. its also the job they chose no one forces someone to become a cop, they know the dangers when they sign up as well as all the benefits. they make great money, have great benefits, are respected by most residents do they really need more than that
Life-Long FL Resident July 20, 2012 at 08:16 PM
Like usual.... A few bad apples spoil the bunch.... I have great respect and admiration for our police force, whether there is 1 or 1,000 violent acts in one day makes no difference to me.. They are brave, and doing a job that most of us would never have the moxy to do, they protect your butts when you need them and also as with most of the time, they arrive before ambulance corps in medical emergencies so they can save you or your loved ones lives as well... these people not only protect the peace, but they are also social workers, marriage counselors, traffic directors, emt's and of course pucnching bags.. These folks deserve every penny they earn, are owed full "lifetime" benefits, and should be respected by all of us. However as I mentioned in my 1st thought, the few who believe they are above the law, and do not function for the better of our community should be demoted, voted out, or disciplined to the full extent of the law they are sworn to protect. Our upper brass for the most part are useless and a new no-confidence vote to oust the chief should be cast and made effective as I know most of the rank and file feel the way I do. Without an effective captain, the ship will crash.. which it has been slowly doing for years in our police department.
Tommy P July 21, 2012 at 01:12 AM
Social workers and marriage counselors? Your showing your age. Police officers are not allowed to do either of those. If they so much as suspect or hear anything domestic violence related, protocol sends at least one person to jail. Our Police Department is well paid, understaffed and has too many veterans of war. No one deserves a salary for life, people deserve salaries for work. Nothing more, nothing less.
Warren G July 21, 2012 at 01:59 AM
Tommy P. you obviously do not know the laws of domestic violence, and there are only a handful of police officers that are veterans, and that should not matter one bit.
Thank-A-Vet July 21, 2012 at 02:15 AM
Tommy P.. what is having "too many veterans of war" have to do with anything? Further, what the heck does it have to do with the topic of this article?
Michael Agosta July 21, 2012 at 10:27 AM
Too many veterans of war? I guess we're domestic terrorists too? The funny thing about self-servers is their ignorance.
Tommy P July 21, 2012 at 12:46 PM
Police forces in general tend to recruit and attract lots of vets. I personally I have three on my staff and have served myself. I have no issues with vets whatsoever. The police serve diverse communities and while are armed force are diverse, a force with monolithic experiences is not in the best interest of a community. Vets make up a small portion of population, we shouldn't make up the vast majority of law enforcement.
Michael Agosta July 21, 2012 at 01:49 PM
So, in your reasoning, a baker or tire salesman possess better skill sets to carry out that function? Monolithic experiences? I know far more vets that have diverse experiences versus those who can't think outside the box. Maybe the vets working for you fit the latter category. We, vets, fare well in law enforcement simply becasue of the similarity in tactics, techniques and procedures. But you wouldn't know about that since your were never in law enforcement.
Go Figure July 21, 2012 at 02:41 PM
tommy p: for a guy who says he served you seem awfully negative towards our armed forces. I think a guy or girl who was TRAINED in the military would serve very well in the police department. They have invaluable training. I also don't think the police departments are top heavy with military vets anyway. I would be interested in seeing the numbers. I would look at the people causing the problems and bet that most of them do not have military training because they show a great lack of discipline!
SK July 21, 2012 at 03:07 PM
Hello Michael, I really hope that police in FL would not use 'tactics, techniques and procedures' similar to combat zone. We must keep every door open for Veterans on return from military service. If police suites them well we must spare no effort to help them become police force. We don't need police force of bakers, salesmen or Veterans. We need police force of policemen :).
Beetle Baily July 21, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Maybe if the Dept leadership had military background these things wouldnt happen Because there would be a more disciplined approach
Warren G July 21, 2012 at 07:37 PM
It has nothing to do with military background. You just need the right leadership which that dept does not have
Jenne July 24, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Tommy, you really need to be a little more skeptical about what you read on internet geek boards about domestic cases. The Internet is full of guys complaining about being shafted by the police on behalf of a woman; that doesn't mean they are telling the whole truth.
ReadAllAboutIt March 10, 2013 at 12:47 PM
http://fairlawn-saddlebrook.patch.com/articles/embattled-police-captain-reaches-retirement-agreement-with-borough MODEL POLICE OFFICER'S DON'T GET FORCED OUT

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