Judge upholds Camden cop's dismissal in case that drew in councilman's name

Posted: August 13, 2014

It was 10:21 p.m. - past the sundown curfew at an East Camden park - when two Camden County Police officers noticed a parked silver Mercedes-Benz with a man and a woman inside.

One of the officers later told a superior and others he believed the man in the car that July 2013 night was City Councilman Frank Moran, with a woman other than his wife, according to testimony from police officials before a state administrative law judge.

Moran denied the allegation and demanded an investigation.

The accusation, however, was picked up by mayoral candidate Clyde E. Cook, who, in a Facebook post, called for Moran's resignation if the allegation proved true.

An inquiry by the department's internal affairs unit concluded that the man was not Moran, and that Officer Angel Reillo had been untruthful to investigators about what he told fellow officers what he had seen.

Reillo was fired.

His termination, and his allegation involving Moran, are detailed in a June decision by the judge that The Inquirer obtained last week.

Ruling on an appeal by Reillo, who claimed he was wrongfully terminated, the judge concluded that Camden County police had reason to fire him. Administrative Law Judge Joseph Lavery, however, also criticized the department's investigation, saying it had failed to establish who was - or was not - in the Mercedes.

The identities of the man and woman remain a mystery. Police testified that Moran told them he was at a family function in Pennsauken at the time. Moran, who is also director of the Camden County Parks Department, did not return numerous calls and advised in an e-mail to contact his attorney.

"Councilman Moran was not anywhere near that park on July 17, he doesn't have a Mercedes, and he was not with any woman other than his spouse," his attorney, James E. Beasley Jr., wrote in an e-mail Friday.

Reillo's attorney on Thursday insisted that his client was cautious about trying to identify the man in the car - contrary to testimony from a detective and another officer that Reillo quickly named Moran and joked about the incident with some fellow officers.

"Angel was scared to death of political consequences by even involving himself in the subject," said Stuart Alterman, Reillo's attorney. "And he wanted nothing to do with it."

It was July 17, when Reillo and another officer were patrolling the park near 29th Street and Pierce Avenue and saw the Mercedes. One of them stepped to each side of the car.

Reillo testified before Lavery that the man in the car identified himself as either "Milan" or "Moran." The woman and the man left when the officers ordered then to move on, Reillo testified.

He did not file an incident report, and no charges were brought.

What happened next is at the heart of the termination of Reillo, a 17-year police veteran who Lavery said appeared to have had no previous disciplinary problems.

Reillo testified that he told his sergeant that he had come upon a car, and that the man inside "had claimed some connection with the City with City Council," according to Lavery's decision. Reillo testified that he did not immediately mention Moran's name, and that the sergeant first brought it up when going through a list of Council members.

Twenty minutes later, according to his testimony, Reillo spoke to a detective and expressed concern that he might be in trouble.

The detective testified that in addition to expressing that concern, Reillo also named Moran as the man in the car and gave a lurid description of the woman and what was happening in the vehicle.

Another officer testified that he overheard Reillo similarly describe the woman.

Reillo told the judge - who called the officer's alleged account "a tale of sexual peccadillo" - that the departmental witnesses made up what he said.

On July 26, 2013, nine days after the Mercedes stop, Moran wrote to Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson pressing for an investigation, according to court documents.

Joseph Wysocki, now Camden County deputy police chief, helped oversee the internal inquiry. He testified that Reillo gave different accounts - first, in two interviews, that he had not named Moran to his sergeant or the detective; then, in a third interview, that he had.

Lavery agreed with police that Reillo did name Moran - contrary to his first two statements to internal affairs - and therefore was untruthful.

"For that, a penalty is inevitable," Lavery said.

But Lavery expressed skepticism about the department's efforts to find out who was in the Mercedes.

On this, he said, the department offered "only hearsay from Capt. Wysocki." Wysocki testified that he spoke to Moran, as well as to the councilman's wife and sister-in-law by phone, and that they agreed he was in Pennsauken at the time.

But Moran and his family members were not called to testify in the case, and neither was the officer on patrol with Reillo that night, Lavery said.

"There is no preponderance of evidence identifying who the male occupant of the car was, or who he was not, and no conclusion can, or should, be reached by this tribunal concerning" where Moran was, Lavery said.

Camden County Police spokesman Mike Daniels said Friday the department does not comment on ongoing litigation.

Reillo's attorney said he was appealing the ruling.


mboren@phillynews.com

856-779-3829 @borenmc

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