Two Hackensack police officers accused of a warrantless search should not have been fired, a New Jersey appeals court has ruled. The court upheld the decision to fire a third.
The city had long sought to fire officers including Mark Gutierrez, Rocco Duardo and Victor Vazquez following the December 2016 search. The Civil Service Commission fired Gutierrez this year but imposed a six-month suspension on the other two and ordered Hackensack to reinstate them.
Three Superior Court appellate judges on Thursday affirmed the suspensions of the two officers, saying the commission’s decision “was not arbitrary or capricious,” NorthJersey.com reported.
The judges upheld the decision to fire Gutierrez, saying the commission found his actions “severe enough to warrant his removal from the police department.”
A total of seven officers were suspended in 2017 after they were accused of an unlawful search of an apartment and then falsifying a police report to cover it up.
An officer’s incident report said they were investigating a possible illegal firearms sale but entered the unit only after a resident said there might be an unattended child inside. An internal investigation concluded that the officers concocted that story as a pretext for the search.
Then-Bergen County prosecutor Gurbir S. Grewal, now state attorney general, dismissed eight criminal cases and told Hackensack prosecutors not to pursue others. The city then moved to fire the officers, arguing they couldn’t perform their duties if they couldn’t credibly testify in court.
In 2018, a judge said the incident report was misleading and false, making the search improper but not warranting termination, calling that a last-resort penalty for the most serious infractions.
In May, an administrative law judge recommended reinstatement of officers who had not since retired, saying they were never given a fair chance to dispute their “Brady list” designation as officers whose history of lying would have to be disclosed to defense attorneys in criminal cases.