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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

NJ Cop Admits to Crash Cover-Up

Clinton Township police officer admits role in hit-and-run crash cover-up
The Courier News/Home News Tribune by BRANDON LAUSCH - February 18, 2009

A Clinton Township police officer who on Wednesday pleaded guilty to obstruction in connection with the internal cover-up of another officer's hit-and-run accident is the third township policeman to lose his job over the incident. Bradley Stockelberg, 44, a former sergeant and a 19-year department veteran who was not on duty the day of the August 2006 crash, immediately forfeited his $90,132-a-year job and agreed to never again hold public office. He had been suspended from the township force without pay. In what was a last-minute decision to accept a deal with prosecutors — Stockelberg's defense attorney even assured Stockelberg in court that he was ready to go to trial "immediately, if not sooner" — the officer pleaded guilty to fourth-degree obstructing administration of law or other governmental function in exchange for the dismissal of the other seven charges in his February 2008 indictment. Assistant Prosecutor William McGovern said the state is not recommending Stockelberg spend time in prison and will leave sentencing up to the court. McGovern also said the state is taking no position on whether Stockelberg should be entitled to his pension. Superior Court Judge Roger F. Mahon told Albert Rylak, Stockelberg's attorney, that his client could withdraw his guilty plea if the sentencing judge determines that the offense warrants jail time. Sentencing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. May 15. Although terms of probation also would be up to the sentencing judge — likely to be Mahon — Rylak said he will suggest in a presentence report that conviction itself is enough. Rylak declined comment after the court appearance.


Wednesday's proceeding marked another milestone in a case that has claimed the jobs of two other township officers, including the off-duty officer involved in the hit-and-run crash and the one who responded to the August 2006 accident in the Finnagel's Restaurant parking lot on Route 31. Former officer Jason Peltack, who was involved in the crash and admitted guilt in the incident, lost his job and can never work again in New Jersey as a police officer. Christopher Szymanski, charged with participating in the cover-up by falsifying the accident report, was accepted into a pretrial-intervention program under terms of a plea deal. If Szymanski stays out of trouble until April, the charge against him will be dismissed, and he will not have a criminal record, his attorney has said. "It's always a sad day when a police officer in Hunterdon County pleads guilty to commiting a crime, but it's vital the residents of the county maintain trust in the many outstanding officers throughout the county that perform their duties at the highest level on a daily basis," said Dan Hurley, chief of detectives for the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office. Hurley also assured residents that law enforcement is capable of policing itself and "will never intentionally turn a blind eye to any acts of corruption." Although Hurley said the Prosecutor's Office still has oversight of the township's force, he added that the supervision has consisted of periodic briefings since township Police Director Robert Manney was hired two years ago. Both Manney and Hurley, in separate interviews, said the police director soon will meet with Prosecutor J. Patrick Barnes to discuss ending the additional oversight. Manney on Wednesday said that the township's force has hired seven new officers since his appointment and is up to 26 officers, one shy of the maximum authorized level. He also said the department has increased training and has made promotions from within to bolster supervision. "It's just another area we can pick up on and continue on the path we've set for ourselves," Manney said of the hit-and-run incident, which occurred before his time with the township. Brandon Lausch- 908-243-6606,

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