Former police officer Thomas Rowan had incurred legal fees in a lawsuit back in 1993.
On the same day that the Superior Court ruled against him, Rowan decided to shut down a website called www.northbergenpd.com that featured controversial topics and comments directed at the township's Police Department and other municipal-related activities.
Whether the court ruling had anything to do with the suspension of the website is not known. Rowan did not return phone calls in time for this report.
In 1993, Rowan and fellow North Bergen Police Officer Vincent Sorge were arrested as part of a sting operation conducted by the New Jersey State Police, the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office, and the North Bergen Police Department, after there were several reports of minority motorists being mistreated and harassed by North Bergen police officers.
On Jan. 26, 1993, Sorge and Rowan were arrested and charged with robbery and official misconduct, allegedly for trying to shake down funds from drivers that were randomly pulled over.
It happened one night The events went like this, according to police: Rowan, assigned to foot patrol at the time, was picked up in a police vehicle by Sorge to respond to a call to check on a motorist asleep in the parking lot of a North Bergen shopping center.
Police reports state that the two officers ordered the motorist out of his Corvette, and when they saw the driver of the Corvette was wearing a lot of jewelry, they allegedly took the man's jewelry and money instead of arresting him.
Sorge allegedly struck the man several times, not realizing that the driver of the Corvette was really an undercover New Jersey state police officer conducting a sting against police corruption.
The case against Sorge went to trial first. Sorge was convicted of misconduct and simple assault and was sentenced to seven years in prison. He spent about 18 months in prison and was released.
Rowan was charged with misconduct because he didn't do anything to stop Sorge from inflicting the beating. Rowan rejected a deal made by prosecutors that would have allowed him to avoid trial altogether if he agreed to pre-trial intervention, but it would have meant that he would have to sacrifice his career as a police officer.
Acquitted of all Stating all along that he was innocent, Rowan, suspended from the force without pay while charges were pending, decided to stand trial on his own. In court, Rowan stated that the only reason why he didn't try to stop Sorge from beating the Hispanic man in the Corvette was that he was no way he could have physically stopped the much larger Sorge from doing anything.
Rowan was acquitted of all charges in his trial, but when he went to reclaim his job, he was told that he had been terminated in 1995 for failing to appear at a disciplinary hearing on different charges. But he thought he was given a stay on those until the criminal charges were settled.
He filed an appeal to get reinstated to the state Office of Administrative Law, but OAL ruled against Rowan, stating that he had 75 days after termination to appeal the decision.
Rowan claimed that since he was fired as an active police officer, he was supposed to have his legal fees paid for, but that never happened.
Rowan maintained all along that he had nothing to do with Sorge's actions.
"The bottom line is that I lost my job because I was three blocks away from my post at 4 a.m.," Rowan said in an interview last year. "Sure, I have a gripe with the Police Department, because I feel that I lost my job unfairly. I should have received maybe 30 days' suspension for being off my post. Instead, I was terminated. It didn't make sense to me."
$76,000 bill When Rowan asked to have his legal fees paid for, a bill that Rowan said was for $76,000, the township refused, claiming that Rowan had acted unlawfully and abused his police authority and responsibilities.
Rowan filed a lawsuit, and the case was eventually tried last week in front of Hudson County Superior Court Judge Hector Velasquez.
The jury then ruled that Rowan was not entitled to having his legal fees paid for by the township.
Rowan tried to sue the township under this legal statute: "Whenever a member or officer of a municipal police department or force is a defendant in any action or legal proceeding arising out of and directly related to the lawful exercise of police powers in the furtherance of his official duties, the governing body of the municipality shall provide said member or officer with necessary means for the defense of such action or proceeding..."
However, at the trial last week, the original victim (the undercover State Police officer) testified that Rowan had indeed participated in the initial robbery and then stood by and watched as Sorge physically assaulted him.
After the three-day trial concluded, the jury deliberated for a few hours and determined that Rowan had acted unlawfully and contrary to his official police functions and duties, and denied his claim for reimbursement.
Needless to say, Police Chief Angelo Busacco was pleased with the jury's determination.
Long case "This finally puts to rest a dark period in North Bergen's history," Busacco said. "The judge and jury discovered what we knew all along: This officer deserved nothing for his role in this criminal case. Since that time, the North Bergen Police Department has undergone many personnel changes from top to bottom. I oversee a professional, upstanding department that has made our neighborhoods safer and more secure than at any time over the last decade."
Suit against site The township still has a lawsuit pending against Rowan for the use of the name northbergenpd.com, because it gave the impression that the website was an authorized police website.
Last July, the township filed a lawsuit against Rowan saying the use of the name misleads the public and that the site has a "misappropriation of township logos and mottoes."
The suit also contends that broadcasting the police dispatches on the website, which Rowan's site did for years, was a threat to homeland security.
In the suit, introduced last July in front of Hudson County Superior Court Judge Maurice Gallipoli, it states that the broadcast of "unauthorized and illegal rebroadcasts interfere with local, state and federal law enforcement efforts, including those of the Department of Homeland Security and facilitate the commission of crimes and terrorist acts."
At the time, Rowan believed the lawsuit to be "nothing more than a bunch of baloney." He admitted to having made an offer to the township that he would drop the name of his site in return for the township agreeing to pay the legal fees. The township would not agree to that demand.
Rowan then said he would sell the naming rights of the site to the township for $325,000, another deal that the township would not agree to.
"I'd be willing to sign over the ownership and stay off the computer if they pay my legal bills, which they should have done, since I was active member of the police force," Rowan said last July.