A municipal court judge found that Justin Hughes, above, provoked the assault by Peter and Steven Lang, below, by saying that Steven Lang should have died in Iraq. (Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
The Lang brothers of Sea Bright won’t be barred from serving as officers of the volunteer fire department as a result of their convictions for assaulting a third firefighter during a wetdown celebration in the firehouse bar a year ago, a judge ruled Wednesday afternoon.
Instead, the Langs and the man they were convicted of attacking all came away with the same sentence: $500 in penalties, as well as a requirement to perform 100 hours of community service.
That service, said Little Silver Judge James Berube, could come in the form volunteer fire or first aid work, duties all three have performed for years.
Citing their long and unblemished records as firefighters and first-aid responders, Berube waived a state statute that would have automatically barred Peter Lang IV, 33 a former fire chief and Steven Lang, 25, from serving as officers of the fire department for the rest of their lives.
And while he admonished all three men to behave civilly going forward, Berube laid blame for what he termed a “a minor incident, a scuffle,” on the victim, Justin Hughes, 28.
According to testimony that Berube said he found credible, Hughes was alleged to have said during an argument that Steven Lang, a former Marine who served a year in the war in Iraq, should have been killed there.
“I’ve concluded that it was your actions” that provoked the second, and more serious of two confrontations between the three that were caught on video, Berube said. “Your words were so serious, so sensitive… they are so inflammatory that they constituted provocation.”
Berube’s ruling came after municipal Prosecutor Mike Halfacre, who also serves as Fair Haven mayor, backed away from a demand that the Langs be barred for life from serving as officers.
Though he said the pair had “disgraced and discredited” the Sea Bright Fire Department, and though they appeared to have rallied a “good-old-boy network” of support that included what he termed “suspect” letters of support, Halfacre said he would not press for forefeiture because state Department of Health and Human Services rules would have mandated the Langs lose their EMT licenses as well.
“That’s where I took pause,” he told Berube.
Peter Lang was set to move up the ladder into the assistant chief position this year, and Steven Lang was slated for the second lieutenant role. But those positions have sat vacant all year, with the brothers maintaining their previously held officer positions.
After the sentencings, the Langs declined comment. Hughes said only that an “absolute injustice” had occurred.