By: Richard L. Smith
Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin released a comprehensive report today, shedding light on misconduct allegations involving leaders in Clark Township.
The report, issued by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), recommends the termination of two police department officials, including the chief, and calls for referrals to four entities, including the Division on Civil Rights.
The 43-page report, made public on Monday, stems from an investigation into allegations of misconduct within Clark Township's municipal government and the Clark Police Department (CPD).
This report fulfills a commitment made by the Union County Prosecutor's Office and the OAG when they assumed control of the department in July 2020.
Attorney General Platkin expressed, "There is a social contract that imposes an expectation that officials in positions of governmental and law enforcement leadership will do the right thing, act not in self-interest but in service to the greater good, and treat all people with respect and dignity as equals. These are not naïve ideals or lofty ambitions but rather the bare minimum expectations communities should have in their leaders. The leaders in the Clark Police Department, and the Township more generally, failed to keep up their end of that bargain."
While certain details remain confidential due to grand jury secrecy, the report strives to provide maximum transparency within legal boundaries.
It shares investigation details that could be established from publicly available sources or information gathered through means other than the grand jury process.
The report acknowledges that the allegations shook public trust in government and aims to restore a measure of community trust by disclosing the State's findings.
It also intends to offer closure to CPD officers who have endured uncertainty during these years and encourages continued cooperation to enhance police culture and practices.
In addition to outlining the State's findings, the report directs CPD and the Union County Prosecutor's Office (UCPO) to implement interventions to address identified concerns.
The supersession of CPD by UCPO, initiated at the Attorney General's direction, will persist. CPD will undertake various measures, including improving data collection and analysis, altering traffic stop procedures, revising attendance policies for superior officers, enhancing civilian relationships, promoting department diversity, and addressing officer wellness.
The sequence of events leading to the supersession began in May 2020 when UCPO received an anonymous letter alleging a CPD officer's no-show job with alleged cover-up by Police Chief Pedro Matos.
A month later, the township attorney notified UCPO of alleged blackmail against the Township, involving the same officer and making various allegations, including claims of racist comments by Matos.
While criminal charges are not pursued at this time, the report outlines the investigative steps and legal analysis conducted to reach that decision.
Additionally, Attorney General Platkin exercised the authority to release internal affairs investigation findings.
Matos repeatedly failed to forward allegations of wrongdoing to UCPO as required by Attorney General-issued internal affairs procedures.
He was found to have violated standards of conduct related to derogatory comments and displayed a lack of truthfulness during an internal affairs inquiry.
The report recommends the termination of Matos and Sgt. Joseph Teston.
Teston violated standards of conduct related to derogatory comments and failed to conduct internal affairs investigations. While on administrative leave,
Teston was arrested in April 2022 outside a professional sports stadium in New York, facing charges of aggravated assault, which were dropped in New York state.
However, Teston admitted to injuring an unarmed individual by striking him in the head with a glass bottle and fleeing the scene, providing grounds for his termination.
Attorney General recommendations are not binding, and final determinations will be made by township officials.
Given a conflict of interest, an independent individual, free from conflict, is recommended to make the final disciplinary decisions in these matters.
While criminal charges are not pursued at this time, the report includes public referrals to other agencies and offices for further action. These include referrals to the Division on Civil Rights, Office of Attorney Ethics, State Comptroller, and Division of Pension and Benefits.
The report did not conclusively prove discriminatory policing practices but identified areas necessitating interventions and further investigation.