CHATHAM NJ Dec 2 2016 -- A bank security guard plans to sue Chatham Borough and the police department because he alleges an officer held a gun to his head nearly a year ago and threatened "to blow his (expletive) head off."
Joseph Kearney, Jr., of Linden, filed a notice of tort claim in Feb. 2016 alleging Officer Roy George, a 14-year veteran with the police department, used excessive force during an incident in front of the Bank of America branch on Main Street on Dec. 15, 2015.
A notice of tort claim is not a lawsuit itself but a procedural necessity before one can file suit against municipalities or government agencies. Kearney, in his notice of tort claim, indicated he believes he's sustained more than $1 million in damages.
George, the borough's traffic safety officer, previously held the rank of sergeant but he was demoted over an Oct. 2009 incident in which he left his fully loaded .45-caliber handgun and police credentials on a Westfield lawn after a night of drinking. He was also suspended over this incident, but the length of the suspension and the terms of discipline were never publicly disclosed.
George's disciplinary hearing was overseen by hearing officer Fredric Knapp, who was later appointed acting Morris County prosecutor in Dec. 2012. Knapp was formally appointed the county prosecutor in June 2014.
Kearney was reporting for his assignment as an armed private security officer on Dec. 15, 2015 when he alleges George ordered him to the ground, held a gun to his head and threatened him. During this incident, Kearney alleges he detected the smell of alcohol on George.
Kearney, a veteran of the Vietnam War, retired as a senior corrections officer with the Union County Department of Public Safety in 2014 and currently works as a licensed private security officer.
Kearney's attorney, Matthew Adams, told NJ Advance Media Chatham police received a call around 8 a.m. on Dec. 15 reporting a man with a gun near the Bank of America.
Kearney, he said, was wearing his security guard uniform and his duty rig which includes a triple-retention gun holster. Triple-retention holsters are often used by law enforcement officers and require three separate actions in order to remove a firearm.
Adams said "everything went sideways" when George arrived on the scene. George commanded Kearney to freeze and drop to his knees before he put the barrel of the gun against Kearney's head and threatened him, he said.
"My client was 100-percent compliant with every turn," he said. "He made no furtive movements. Officer George, instead of de-escalating the situation, escalated the situation."
Kearney, in his notice of tort claim, said other Chatham police officers at the scene didn't react to the situation as George did and apologized to him for George's conduct. He also said these officers made comments that George "marches to the beat of his own drummer."
Kearney, Adams said, was extremely shaken in the immediate aftermath of the incident. He was also not charged in connection with the Dec. 15 incident.
"(Kearney) is the antithesis of a threat to the police," he said. "And the fact that Officer George flew off the handle while under the influence of alcohol is alarming."
George, according to Adams, appears to still be serving as an active duty officer.
A spokesperson for Chatham Borough said police records related to the Dec. 15, 2015 incident haven't yet been released due to an ongoing investigation by the Morris County Prosecutor's Office.
That investigation, however, appears to be at a standstill as the alleged victim wasn't interviewed until July 25 -- more than seven months after the incident -- and another potential witness hasn't been interviewed at all.
In a Nov. 14 letter to Prosecutor Knapp obtained by NJ Advance Media, Adams said he believes the prosecutor's office hasn't taken the investigation seriously and that the office's "investigative integrity...is now at stake" over this matter.
Kearney, during his July 25 interview, identified another witness -- a police officer in Hudson County who was on the phone with Kearney when the Dec. 15 incident occurred, Adams said in the letter. As of Nov. 30, the prosecutor's office still hasn't interviewed that witness, Adams confirmed in a phone interview.
George was hired by the department in Sept. 2002 and currently receives an annual salary of $126,953.47, according to borough records.
Paul Merkler, a spokesman for the Morris County Prosecutor's Office, said the prosecutor's office could neither confirm nor deny an investigation into George. The prosecutor's office hasn't yet commented as to a potential conflict of interest in this case with regard to Knapp's prior role as George's hearing officer.
Borough Administrator Robert Falzarano referred comment to Chatham Borough Police Chief Phillip Crosson. Crosson and George haven't yet responded to messages placed by NJ Advance Media on Thursday.