With chief on leave, prosecutor's office runs Clayton police department

Posted: June 13, 2014

For the second time in seven years, the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office has taken over the day-to-day operations of the Clayton Police Department.

County officials say the circumstances of the two takeovers are very different. The first, in 2007, came after former Chief Frank Winters and his wife were charged with stealing more than $150,000 from the New Jersey branch of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The recent takeover happened quietly on May 14, after Chief Dennis Marchei took a leave of absence for what county officials have said were personal reasons. It became public recently when it was reported by the South Jersey Times.

As part of the move, Prosecutor Sean Dalton said his office is assessing the functioning of various units, including internal affairs and patrol operations. He declined to elaborate.

Such takeovers are rare - only the two involving Clayton have happened in Gloucester County during Dalton's 12-year term.

In the most recent case, Clayton officials requested the takeover and began discussing it with the Prosecutor's Office in late April. William Cook, labor counsel for the Borough of Clayton, said the takeover was sought for multiple reasons.

First, he said, Marchei went on leave for an issue of a "highly personal nature."

Cook said that the leave was not related to disciplinary or criminal troubles, but that he could not discuss the reason because it "would implicate some health privacy issues."

Marchei could not be reached, and Cook would not say when Marchei first left or when he might return. Cook said Marchei could also opt to retire this year.

Second, Cook said, the process for temporarily replacing Marchei would require advertising his job internally and online, and then interviewing candidates, similar to if an officer in the department left.

"This was not something that was any kind of quick fix," Cook said.

So the borough, Cook said, sought someone with experience who could fill the role: The Prosecutor's Office. The decision was made in a closed-door session, he said, because it touched on a personnel matter.

Bill Perna, a detective from that office, is now overseeing the department, which has around 15 officers. He is also receiving occasional help from other detectives at the Prosecutor's Office to review the police department's units. The results of those assessments will be given to borough officials in three to six months.

Cook, when asked about the assessments of each unit by the Prosecutor's Office, said, "There's always concerns in any department in making sure everything is functioning appropriately, so I can't say that there's anything that's changed."

Clayton Mayor Tom Bianco, reached by phone Wednesday, said, "There are no concerns about the operations of the department."

Dalton said the main goal of the takeover is to ensure that the department carries out its daily functions. He stressed that the current takeover and the previous came in different circumstances.

"This situation is much different in the sense that Chief Marchei is on leave, not from any criminal conduct, but based upon his own decision," Dalton said. "And based on that, Clayton reached out to us to come in and assist them with this transition."

Winters resigned as chief in 2007 and two years later was sentenced to seven years in state prison. Winters, who was at one time the appointed state chairman of MADD, spent the thousands of dollars he and his wife stole from the organization on a car, furniture, jewelry, and vacations, the state Attorney General's Office said. His wife was admitted to a pretrial intervention program and spared a prison term.

Amid the scandal, the county Prosecutor's Office took over the department for more than a year, until Marchei was appointed chief. It was unclear how long the latest takeover might last, but county officials said they expected it to be shorter.


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