Stand To Reason

NJSPBA members come to Little Falls to support member and make a show of strength against excessive and unreasonable discipline

By Mitchell Krugel 

On Monday morning, July 10, the parking lot of the Little Falls Municipal Court began to fill up like an NJ State PBA meeting was being held. Having made the hour-long drive, Montgomery Township Local 355 State Delegate Joe Sles arrived first. He was joined by a group of members from Monmouth County.

At 9:30 a.m., another group of members from Paterson Local 1 joined the muster, led by President Angel Jimenez, who had been elected to his position only a week earlier. Within the next half hour, Vernon Township Local 285 State Delegate Keith Curry, Atlantic City Local 24 State Delegate Matt Rogers, Montclair Local 53 State Delegate Joe Savittieri, Berkeley Heights Local 144 State Delegate Pat Moran and members from many other corners of the state had gathered outside the courthouse. President Pat Colligan had also arrived in the PBA truck showing its unmistakable colors.

The PBA showed up and showed out because the Little Falls Police Department administration had messed with one its own. It was the second day of open hearings to contest absurd discipline – a chief making it personal and using it as a weapon – inflicted on Little Falls Local 346 State Delegate Frank Conti.

“I actually met Frank last week and he mentioned there was a hearing today, so I wanted to come out and support him,” Jimenez
shared after the hearing ended. “I’ve been in those shoes before when I first came on the job. To be in that hearing and have nobody around, it’s kind of intimidating. But it’s comforting to know that you have all those members behind you.”

Colligan’s President’s Message published in the June issue of NJ Cops Magazine no doubt inspired members to come out for this
cause. He noted in that article how there are times when departmental discipline is needed but should never be the result of an
emotional outburst from the chief or other members of the department administration.

“It’s just like tickets. Discipline is a tool to correct behavior,” Colligan added following the July 10 hearing that seemed to come out
in Conti’s favor. “When discipline is not corrective, it sends a hard message to every new cop who takes his hand off the Bible and has this guy as a chief.”

So PBA members came to Little Falls to stand up for one of their own being subjected to unreasonable, unfair and unprecedented discipline and treatment. With attorney Lori Dvorak, one of the PBA Legal Protection Plan’s finest, representing Conti with passion
motivated by such a faux pas from the Little Falls PD, this was the union doing what it does best to support and defend its members.

“We came out to show that we’re a brotherhood and we stick together no matter what the circumstances,” asserted Hudson County Corrections Officers Local 109 President Benny Lisojo, who attended with a few of his members. “My department, we’re dealing with a lot of this type of stuff as we speak. So it’s important that we make a statement.”

Conti was on a call in January 2022 when the driver of a car fell asleep in the car with his foot on the brake and with the car in gear.
He pulled up and blocked the car so it wouldn’t roll, and he observed the driver. The incident was recorded on mobile video recorder because Little Falls did not have body-worn cameras at the time.

Conti’s patrol sergeant also responded to the scene and asked him how he wanted to handle the situation. Conti suggested administering sobriety tests, but the sergeant reportedly indicated that he thought the driver was OK and that Conti should escort him to the house he was trying to get to.

“Frank is like, ‘What the hell?’” Dvorak added. “Frank writes up his report. He puts that in his report. And when it goes for review,
the watch commander says to the sergeant, ‘Hey, is this what happened?’ And the sergeant says, ‘No, that has to be corrected.’”

The sergeant texted Conti for his login and apparently told him that he could not write the report that way.

“Frank doesn’t see the edits that he makes,” Dvorak continued. “The sergeant resubmits the report and the watch commander approves it. And the new report says things like, ‘There were no signs of intoxication or impairment,’ which is completely opposite of
what the truth is.”

Conti met with the watch commander expressing concerns about how the sergeant handled the call.

“The watch commander says, ‘I’ll take care of it,’” Dvorak detailed. “Fast forward three months. Frank is the target of an internal affairs investigation with a Brady charge for filing a false police report.”

Dvorak quickly got the Brady charge dismissed. The fight now is to reduce the 30-day suspension that Conti was given after the IA
investigation. Discipline handed out to the other officers involved in the matter was no more than 18 days and as little as four days of banked time.

“Because he failed to document his complaints to the watch commander in writing, and he didn’t question the sergeant and ask for a second opinion – like that’s ever going to work – they want 30 days from him. It’s insane,” Dvorak commented. “The watch commander, the highest-ranking officer that night, only got a minor discipline.”

At the July 10 hearing, Dvorak’s questioning of the supervisor who worked IA at the time and the new chief apparently exposed flaws in the discipline given to Conti. Her cross-examination of the chief revealed some information that showed the discipline given to Conti did not meet standard set by a New Jersey Supreme Court case establishing fairness and proportionality for discipline within an agency.

Afterward, Dvorak offered a perspective consistent with why PBA members made such a strong showing in Little Falls.

“My impression lately has been that certain departments – not all by any means – have become over-empowered with their own ability, and they lead by discipline,” she explained. “I think that is personally a terrible way to go about being a leader. You lead by example, and your discipline is something to make corrections and make your department better. When a department forgets that’s the purpose of discipline, then instances like this start to come up where it becomes more punishment than it is to retrain and make your department better.”

Conti, who has been on for seven years and has been State Delegate for four, shared that he felt a lot better after the July 10 hearing.

While the case goes to the hearing officer for a decision expected in early September, Conti is empowered by his sisters and brothers
sitting shoulder to shoulder in the courtroom, and the outcome of the day.

“The ramifications of making a stand are important to every department, every Local in the state,” Conti conveyed. “I have to stick
up for myself, and then so does everybody else. They can’t accept what they don’t believe is right.”

And the end in sight seems to be exactly what Colligan wrote about in the June issue and what should be done in these situations.

“The truth is coming out,” Conti declared. “That’s what I appreciate.”