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RED BANK: ALLEGED FAVORITISM SPARKED PROBE

Patrolwoman Kristin Altimari with then-Mayor Pasquale Menna at a ceremony at which she was honored in 2014. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By BRIAN DONOHUE

Conducting an improper strip search. Violating the department’s time-off policy. Failing to appear in court when subpoenaed.

For most police officers, those kinds of allegations against them, if proven, mean trouble: retraining, suspensions or worse.

But not for Red Bank Patrolwoman Kristin Altimari, New Jersey’s top law enforcement official said last week.

Chief Darren McConnell in 2021. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

Those three internal affairs cases, and several others against Altimari, resulted in little or no discipline because her then-boyfriend, now husband, police Chief Darren McConnell improperly intervened, an investigation by the New Jersey Attorney  General’s office found. 

The AG’s report, issued Friday, called for McConnell to be “terminated and not continue in any capacity” with the borough after his retirement, which has been pending for eight months.

“Clearly, he fell short of conducting business according to the highest ethical standards by commencing an intimate relationship with a subordinate, a probationary officer, and by continuing to make decisions regarding her discipline and punishment throughout her career,” the report by the AG’s Special Investigations Unit reads. “Chief McConnell used his position as the Chief of Police to influence Borough of Red Bank decisions which resulted in personal gain for a subordinate employee, Patrolwoman Kristin Altimari.”

The report, provided Friday to redbankgreen by the NJAG upon request, contained numerous redactions, including Altimari’s name. But the redacted content, including Altimari’s identity, was revealed when the document’s electronic file format was converted to text. Late Friday, redbankgreen declined a request by the NJAG that it “abide by the intent of the redactions” and “remove” from its reporting information that had been blacked out in the report.

Altimari remains on active duty has not replied to a redbankgreen request for comment.

For months, the investigation into McConnell has swirled amid closed-door probes, salacious public allegations and hushed secrecy. 

But the report laid bare for the first time the alleged pattern of favoritism that fueled frustrations among the rank and file, prompting their union president to file an explosive complaint with the state in November, 2022.

Policeman’s Benevolent Association Local 39 President Mike Zadlock alleged McConnell failed to recuse himself in a total of 14 internal affairs investigations between 2014 and 2021.

The AG’s report provides details for eight instances in which investigators determined Altimari’s relationship with McConnell appears to have spared her punishment normally doled out to officers. 

They include:

•  A September, 2021 case in which an investigating officer determined Altimari had violated the department’s time-off policy. McConnell received from the investigating officer a sustained finding and
recommendation for discipline. But two years later, a review by Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office found no documentation of either a disposition or discipline in the case file.

•  Two cases against Altimari, dubbed “more serious” in which McConnell prevented Altimari from being disciplined based upon his own, incorrect, interpretation of a 45-day rule set by the Attorney General’s Office for the completion of such cases. 

•  A case in which Altimari was investigated for failing to appear in court when subpoenaed. McConnell told investigators Altimari had been counseled on the matter, the report says, but could provide no documentation whether she was counseled or by whom. McConnell blamed it on a “failure in our system” adding “it may not have been the best record system.”

•  A case described as  “serious” in which Altimari was found to have engaged in an improper strip search. The investigating officer recommended a one-day suspension, but McConnell instead recommended sending Altimari for remedial training in search and seizures. Investigators found no such training took place for years, until the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office began investigating the complaints against McConnell. 

•  Four cases against Altimari in which McConnell changed or downgraded discipline against her but where the outcome remains unclear, partly because of McConnell failed to provide documentation and even misled investigators. After finding  “no documentation of disposition or discipline in the case files” for the four cases, investigators asked McConnell to provide missing information. Instead, he sent a what the report describes as a “misleading” email and failed to provide details. 

Both McConnell and Altimari described to investigators an intimate/personal relationship that began shortly after she was hired in 2014. They were married last year.

The NJAG also found that McConnell “failed to report his supervisor/ subordinate dating relationship,” in violation of borough employment policy.

McConnell declined comment on the report Friday afternoon, and referred redbankgreen to his attorney, Anthony J. Iacullo, who said he would reserve his response “for the appropriate legal forum” and was confidence McConnell will be vindicated.

Zadlock has not commented since the release of the report.

The borough council has notified McConnell of its ““intention to discipline” McConnell, who has invoked his right to a closed hearing, to be presided over by retired New Jersey Superior Court Judge Deborah Gramiccioni.

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