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.