Deputy Chief Robert DelPriore, a 32-year veteran of the Weehawken Police Department who worked his way through the ranks from patrolman, said it would simply make things more comfortable if he didn't hang around much longer. He had found out recently that Lt. Veronica Flood-Helwig would be returning to active duty.
DelPriore and Flood-Helwig were embroiled in a highly controversial and heated lawsuit in 2001, when she charged that DelPriore had been harassing and stalking her for several months. However, she dropped the suit after only four months.
But after that, Flood-Helwig did not return to the department for a number of reasons. One was that she claimed a finger injury caused her to become permanently disabled. She filed a claim to the New Jersey State Bureau of Pensions, seeking permanent disability for the injury to her hand.
In addition, according to details listed in the investigation report, her ex-husband, Paul Helwig, had filed a domestic violence complaint against her for an incident in their Wood-Ridge home in September of 2000. Because of the state attorney general's guidelines regarding law enforcement officers and restraining orders, Veronica Flood-Helwig had her weapons confiscated and had to undergo therapy until the matter was resolved.
But last month, the state pension board denied Flood-Helwig's claim of permanent disability, stating that the injury was not extensive enough to prevent her from working.
So she'd be coming back.
"She injured her finger, and we decided to give her the time off to heal," said David Corrigan, the labor and employment attorney for the township of Weehawken. "Even her own doctor said that she was permanently disabled, but the state Board of Pensions' doctors examined her and denied the claim. With that, we had no other option but to return Veronica to active duty."
That news dismayed DelPriore so much that he went through with retirement plans he had originally made, even after he was asked by township officials to reconsider and remain on the job until the end of the calendar year.
"When they decided to accept [Flood-Helwig] back, that's when I decided to leave," said DelPriore, who has served as the deputy police chief for the last seven years. "I feel it would have been a detriment to the police department if I stayed on the job. She's the reason for all of this. It's apparent that I didn't go out on good terms. I don't want people to think that I wanted to do this. I didn't leave on my own accord. I'm very proud of the department and the whole community, but I didn't want to cause any more controversy, so I decided to step aside when they said they were bringing her back. I don't want to interfere with anything."
The ongoing saga between DelPriore and Flood-Helwig dates back to 2000, when Flood-Helwig said he was following her and leaving messages on her voicemail.
Here's a sampling of the transcripts of the initial report, filed by Corrigan back in 2001: "It's 11:52 a.m. and I'm parked right outside your [bleeping] car. Oh, man. [Expletive]. Un[bleeping] believable. Staying with somebody. I wonder who you're staying with. I found you...I got you."
DelPriore insisted that he was only acting in the best interests of Flood-Helwig, an 18-year veteran of the Weehawken Police Department. Flood-Helwig and her ex-husband, Paul, a retired Weehawken police officer, were once close, personal friends of DelPriore.
Corrigan's investigation of the situation in 2001 stated that "on the surface, Helwig's allegations are serious. They paint a picture of a superior officer who makes repeated phone calls to a subordinate and uses an inappropriate tone to communicate with a subordinate who wants nothing to do with him. Whether the conduct is on or off duty, such conduct would be offensive and affect Helwig's terms and conditions of employment ... Our investigation, however, reveals something completely different. It reveals DelPriore to have a personal and professional concern for a fellow officer who appears to have some difficulty in dealing with an alcohol problem. He becomes angry with her only after he believes she is deceiving him concerning her compliance with an alcohol treatment program."
At the time of the lawsuit, the 40-year-old Flood-Helwig said the problems began when offensive cartoons and sexually explicit drawings began appearing on the walls of the headquarters.
According to the initial report conducted by Corrigan, Helwig stated that she complained to both DelPriore and fellow superior officer Captain William McLellan, also named in the original lawsuit, about the drawings, but the superior officers did nothing to remove them.
Helwig also claimed that DelPriore followed her around while she was off-duty and left threatening messages on her voice mail and written messages on her car. Helwig claims that the incidents happened for more than a year before she filed an internal affairs sexual harassment complaint in February.
"DelPriore has for a period of over a year harassed the plaintiff, asking her who she is with and who she is dating off-duty," the original complaint stated. "On numerous occasions, in addition to leaving disturbing voicemail messages, the defendant DelPriore would be seen throughout the town looking for the plaintiff and asking about the plaintiff's whereabouts."
In the 30-page investigation report, Corrigan stated that it was DelPriore acting as a long-time friend who was trying his best to help Helwig get through some personal problems, including treatment for alcohol dependency.
The report states that when Helwig complained about the offensive materials, the town "took immediate corrective action."
According to details listed in the investigation report, Paul Helwig filed a domestic violence complaint against his ex-wife in their home in Wood-Ridge in Bergen County in September of 2000.
Because of the state attorney general's guidelines regarding law enforcement officers and restraining orders, Veronica Flood-Helwig had her weapons confiscated until the matter was resolved.
Helwig was examined by a physician and a psychiatrist, Dr. Oscar Sandoval of Union City, who determined that she was dependent on alcohol and suggested outpatient treatment, according to Corrigan's report.
Flood-Helwig was restricted to desk duty upon completion of a 90-day Alcohol Anonymous program, prescribed as part of the psychological examination by Dr. Sandoval. She was also ordered to undergo weekly therapy sessions with a doctor of her choosing, but had to report twice a month to Sandoval.
Those recommendations were accepted by the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office as a condition for Helwig to get her weapons back. However, a month after the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office set up the deal to restore Flood-Helwig's return to duty, Paul Helwig moved to drop the domestic violence charges and remove the restraining order, in an attempt to reconcile his marriage.
It appeared at that time that Veronica Flood-Helwig was moving to get her life back together and to become restored as a full-time duty officer in Weehawken.
However, just a month later, things apparently took a turn for the worse. The Helwigs separated. According to the Corrigan report, she began to have a relationship with another Weehawken police officer, George Kallert.
Also according to the report, on Dec. 12, 2000, DelPriore, thinking that Flood-Helwig was staying in an alcohol-free environment in Secaucus, spotted her outside the now Sheraton Suites Hotel in Weehawken, which caused DelPriore to leave the aforementioned message on Helwig's voicemail.
Two days later, according to the report, DelPriore left this message: "You're done. The game is on. It's my turn."
Both Helwig and DelPriore denied having any sexual or personal relationship with each other. DelPriore has been married for more than 30 years.
The report stated that once DelPriore left the messages for Flood-Helwig, the working environment changed dramatically between the two.
Corrigan's report concluded, "DelPriore is not a perfect deputy chief. He is probably too close to some of his officers ... His comments left on the tapes reveal a somewhat unorthodox method in dealing with a subordinate with an apparent drinking problem. But DelPriore is not a sexual harasser."
Flood-Helwig decided to drop the lawsuit four months after it was filed, and no monetary award was given. In the settlement agreement, she stated that she "releases and gives up any and all claims I may have brought...and specifically release the township of any obligation regarding this case. In turn, I will receive a payment of $0 in full payment for issuing this release." The settlement was "made without any admission of liability or any wrongdoing on the part of any party."
Since the lawsuit was dropped, Flood-Helwig had to handle more adversity in her personal life. Kallert was arrested and charged with domestic violence in October, 2003. He allegedly physically assaulted Flood-Helwig in their Weehawken residence.
Kallert agreed to pre-trial intervention as part of the incident and didn't face any jail time, as long as he remained out of trouble for the period of a year. He has since returned to the Weehawken Police Department.
DelPriore said he couldn't see himself working with Flood-Helwig once he found out that she was going to be returning to active duty.
"I couldn't do it," DelPriore said. "I couldn't see myself there with her. I'm able to walk out with my head held high. I joined the force at 21 years old and was able to work my way up to where I became deputy chief at 47. I have no regrets."
While Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner is not permitted by law to speak about Flood-Helwig's return to the police force, he did commend DelPriore for his years of service to the department.
"I have total respect for Bob's decision to retire," Turner said. "I felt he did a great job as deputy chief. We made a lot of progress over the years that he served as deputy chief, in terms of fighting crime, in terms of improving quality of life. He augmented the police department and represented himself well in his 32 years of service. I respected the job he performed and he served the community well. I wish him well in his retirement."
Right now, there are no plans to immediately replace DelPriore. The position of deputy chief was created by the township in 1982, when reorganization allowed the township to eliminate the position of police chief. There is also a township Public Safety Director, Jeff Welz.