Lewdness charge for narcotics-unit chief

Posted: May 22, 2014

A lieutenant who leads the narcotics unit of the Camden County Police Department has been suspended without pay after allegedly committing a lewd act while sitting inside a Starbucks in Cherry Hill.

Benito Gonzalez Jr. of Sewell was charged by Cherry Hill police with a disorderly-persons lewdness offense in the May 7 incident. Police said Gonzalez pulled down his pants and exposed his genitals before touching himself at the Starbucks at 1192 E. Route 70.

Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson said Gonzalez, a 17-year veteran who transferred from the former Camden City department to the county department, has been suspended without pay.

Gonzalez's salary is $104,070, county officials said. He supervises 24 people, including some on the Community Safety Team, which sometimes works with the narcotics unit. Before moving to the unit, he worked as a detective and a patrol officer.

Gonzalez did not return a call to his home Tuesday seeking comment.

The Cherry Hill department, notified by Starbucks officials, posted a photo on its Facebook page of a suspect walking inside the Starbucks. He was not wearing a police uniform. The post said: "This male is wanted for questioning for a suspicious incident that occurred at the Starbucks."

The photo was later taken down, though it was not known why. The Cherry Hill department declined to elaborate on the information provided in a court complaint.

On Tuesday, Thomson said in a news release: "We are deeply troubled by the allegations of this off-duty conduct. A swift and thorough investigation is being conducted. We are working to ascertain all of the facts in this matter with the Cherry Hill Police Department and the Camden County Prosecutor's Office. The officer has been removed from duty."

Thomson did not return calls Tuesday afternoon seeking further details.

The department is conducting an internal affairs investigation. Dan Keashen, spokesman for Camden County, said he could not discuss whether Gonzalez had any prior infractions in his departmental record, but did say the investigation would be completed "very soon."

Starbucks corporate officials in Seattle released a statement saying, "Starbucks partners immediately informed local authorities of this incident, and we will continue to support their efforts."

Gonzalez has worked as a narcotics officer and on the county department's tactical narcotics team - "his" team, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in a March 2013 news release on the sentencing of two Camden City drug dealers.

Sometime between March 2013 and January, Gonzalez moved up from sergeant to lieutenant. Typically, the title of lieutenant carries additional responsibilities and puts an individual in charge of more people.

While a member of the former Camden City department, and before his move to lieutenant, Gonzalez and his narcotics unit assisted in tracking down a Camden drug dealer who was found with 55 bags of cocaine, authorities said, and was later convicted.

In June 2011, in a separate incident, Gonzalez, while working as a narcotics officer, was shot at while chasing a man who was allegedly selling drugs on Newtown Avenue. Gonzalez was not hit, but he injured a leg during the chase. The suspect, Adam Reed, 32, was found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to 66 years.

A hearing for Gonzalez is scheduled June 4 in Cherry Hill Municipal Court. An official at the court said Gonzalez had not reported hiring an attorney as of Tuesday afternoon.


mboren@phillynews.com

856-779-3829 @borenmc

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