For those who watch a lot of television, police dramas in particular, the idea that police officers who work together typically develop a very strong sense of loyalty and devotion to each other is a very familiar theme. While the old saying that “life imitates art” is often true, in the case of the law enforcement community, art has been imitating life for many decades. Often referred to as the “blue wall of silence,” this unspoken rule reflects the common understanding between police officers that one does not testify against a fellow officer.
This bond between law enforcement officers has a deep and long-standing tradition, having its roots in the associational virtue of loyalty, and drawing from a context of friendship and even a familial connection with other officers on a police force or department. While laudable in many regards, the “blue wall” can occasionally work against the aims of justice when corruption in the ranks is discovered by superiors or other well-intentioned individuals.
As New Jersey drunken driving defense attorneys, my colleagues and I have a great respect for the dedication and personal sacrifice that many police officers regularly display as they put their lives on the line every day in towns and cities all across this nation. Unfortunately, there are some instances where an officer in whom society has placed its faith fails to live by the laws that he or she is sworn to uphold. A case in point has been playing out in Trenton, as an investigation has loomed for a number of New Jersey State Police troopers.
According to news reports, prosecutors with the state’s Attorney General’s Office had been contemplating the pressing of charges against a number of state troopers in connection with another trooper’s DWI-related car accident in mid-2012. Based on news reports, it appears that the troopers in question may have mishandled their fellow officer’s drunk driving case in an unprofessional and possibly illegal manner.
The incident that brought this all about took place in July 2012, when a 34-year-old trooper ended up in crashing his police cruiser into a creek in the Monmouth County. New reports indicate that the officer was not on duty when the accident occurred just before 3am. The crash, which also involved two parked cars but no injuries, resulted in the trooper’s unmarked vehicle going into the creek, while the officer himself left the scene.
According to news articles, subsequent to the crash, the Lake Como PD received a report of a hit-and-run accident. Officers arriving on the scene found the unmarked State Police cruiser in the creek and notified the State Police, which then took control of the investigation. Although State Police officials had told reporters that the trooper had been arrested at his home just minutes following the accident, there was no mention of why the officer fled the scene, nor how he managed to get to his home about two miles away.
Most recently, the officer, who has been suspended without pay for more than a year, admitted to being intoxicated when the crash occurred that morning in 2012. Having pled guilty to DWI, the trooper’s license was suspended for 90 days and he was fined $514. The man will reportedly continue to be suspended without pay, which will continue until a current internal affairs investigation is reaches its conclusion.
Back in December, the Attorney General’s Office was considering criminal charges against several other state troopers who apparently handled the case. According to reports, the state’s review of the case was focused on whether or not the troopers involved may have tried to impede the accident investigation involving their colleague in July 2012. At the time of the news article, no charges had been lodged against any of the parties involved.
Prosecutors considering charges against N.J. State Police troopers for handling of DWI, NJ, December 11, 2013
N.J. State Police trooper admits drunkenly crashing car into creek, NJ.com, March 3, 2013