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Saturday, May 27, 2017

TFoTM Archive: The Arrest Of An Out-Spoken Citizen Part I

On June 1, 2004, Westfield resident James Abate was arrested. The arrest of James Abate, after he had spoken at a Westfield Town Council Meeting, had some people claiming it was an act of retaliation.
What follows is The Westfield Leaders coverage (in yellow text) of the incident along with other commentary and facts (in white text).  Some of the commentary is opinion, however facts of one incident or another will bolster and lend credence to the opinions stated.

     “I think we’re in trouble,” First Ward Councilman Salt Caruana said at Tuesday night’s council meeting (June 1, 2004) after Parking Director John Morgan admitted that the commuter parking waiting list has not been validated.”

     “James Abate said that while he liked the idea of allowing free parking at the South Avenue lot in the afternoon, daily parking does not allow the opportunity to find out the depth of the parking waiting list. After asking how many people had to be gone through on the list to sell permits and the revelation that the list has not been vetted, Abate took a seat in the audience.
     Shortly after, he was approached by Captain Morgan and asked to step outside the council chambers. Upon exiting the council chambers Abate was taken downstairs to the police department and processed for three outstanding warrants from Westfield, Newark and Middletown totaling $583. The warrants were all for traffic violations, with the violations for Westfield being for parking. Abate posted bail and was released. 
     According to Mayor McDermott, Chief Tracy was sitting in the meeting, heard Abate’s name and went to check the status of warrants. “The Chief is doing his job,” Mayor McDermott said.  Abate told The Westfield Leader that he was informed there were everyday warrants for parking and moving violations. “The town chose to execute while speaking out against the parking decks, but should not detract from the fact that I had just revealed in my comments that the parking lists are worthless as they have never been verified. There appears to be a 38 percent discrepancy between those that want the permits and those that are on the list.”
     It should be noted that “Captain Morgan” was not a sworn police officer in terms of those that you see patrolling the streets of Westfield, full time, on a daily basis.  John Morgan is a close personal friend of Westfield Police Chief Bernard Tracy.  He is an Auxiliary Officer otherwise known by the rank and file as a “Police Special.”  These “auxiliary” or “special” officers play a vital role in assisting with weekend church traffic and other duties assigned to them.  Special Officer Morgan was given permission to wear his uniform to work his civilian job as Parking Director.
     It was not uncommon for Special Officer Morgan to wear his uniform daily to his civilian-parking job that was housed within the police department under the direction of the police chief.  He would also, on occasion, appear at council meetings wearing his uniform.  As a parking director, the wearing of his uniform allowed him to holster a gun on his side and pin a badge on his shirt.  Maybe the badge and gun gave him a false sense of authority within the department.  After all, the lowest ranking officer on the department, “the rookie” outranked “Captain” Morgan. 
     Maybe “the badge” would garner him that free cup of coffee when he made a “pick-up” at Dunkin Doughnuts, Vickie’s Diner, or The Westfield Diner.  It wasn’t his fault that local establishments extended the courtesy of “freebies” to him.  But there is a difference between using the uniform for the “freebie,” and being given a “freebie” because that was a particular courtesy extended to police officers while “on-duty” by some local merchants. 
     While in uniform, in his civilian parking director’s job, Special Officer John Morgan could appear to be “on-duty;” he was on-duty as the civilian parking director.
     Fate would have it that John Morgan would be the one to ask Mr. Abate to step outside Council chambers to be arrested by the awaiting Westfield police officers.  Was it because Chief Tracy wanted to allow John Morgan, the “Captain,” the opportunity to escort Mr. Abate to his subsequent arrest since Mr. Abate had just questioned the parking waiting list; a list that the parking director “Captain” Morgan had not validated?  Its a fact that Abate had appeared at previous council meetings and was critical of the proposed parking deck.  You be the judge.
     The Westfield Leader then reported “Abate said that he has been in touch with the state administrator of courts who informed him “if Westfield has a policy to issue a warrant for every single parking ticket, it would be improper.” Abate then added that he intends to go to the Administrative Judge of Union County for Municipal Courts to issue a complaint against Westfield.  Ultimately, the council passed the overnight parking ordinance with Councilman Caruana voting no and the rest of the council voting in favor.
     Mr. Abate’s arrest sparked controversy and had a lot of people asking questions.  The fact of the matter is that Mr. Abate most likely had warrants for his arrest on these parking and motor vehicle violations because they were never adjudicated in court due to a non-appearance by Mr. Abate and/or the fines/penalties were not paid.  The officers effectuated a lawful arrest based on the information they had been given, that Mr. Abate had warrants for his arrest.   
     There was speculation that the information was obtained illegally.  That speculation was not just coming from the public, but from some of Westfield’s Finest.  To obtain the information needed to arrest James Abate, a person would have to have knowledge that the warrants existed.  How did anyone know about the warrants?  How did Chief Tracy know? 

     What follows is The Westfield Leader’s June 10, 2004 coverage of the ongoing Abate arrest controversy.   

     At Tuesday night’s (June 8, 2004) Westfield Town Council meeting Town Administrator James Gildea and Mayor Gregory McDermott asked Police Chief Bernard Tracy to address the issuance of warrants and the events surrounding James Abate’s arrest at last week’s public meeting. According to Mr. Gildea the facts of what happened last week were not accurately reported in the newspaper.  
     Chief Tracy explained that it is his understanding that when a summons is issued a court date is given. If a person fails to appear in court a notice is sent to their home and if they fail to appear again a warrant is then issued.  According to Chief Tracy, Mr. Abate had four active warrants from Newark, Middletown and Westfield for contempt of court, meaning he had failed to appear. Chief Tracy said he became aware of the warrants a “week or so” before the meeting and when he saw Mr. Abate he went downstairs to verify that the warrants were still active. He said he then asked Special Police Captain John Morgan to ask Mr. Abate to step outside the council chambers where an officer was waiting. Mr. Abate was then processed, paid his fees and was released.
     Mayor McDermott questioned why Captain Morgan was asked to get Mr. Abate. Chief Tracy said that he didn’t think it would draw attention and that he was trying to be as discrete as possible. Second Ward Councilwoman Jo Ann Neylan questioned if the warrants were for unpaid parking tickets. Chief Tracy said he believed that two of the tickets were for motor vehicle violations. 
     Second Ward Councilman Rafael Betancourt said that failure to appear can lead to a driver’s license suspension.  Chief Tracy said that Mr. Abate was previously arrested for six warrants and driving while suspended. 
     Fourth Ward Councilman Lawrence Goldman questioned whether Chief Tracy gets a print-out of all residents with warrants and then asked what the process is for executing outstanding warrants. Chief Tracy said he gets a list of those residents from the Westfield Municipal Court. He said that the police either knock on doors or execute them during routine traffic stops. 
     Councilman Goldman questioned what the immediacy is for executing a warrant.  Chief Tracy said that if he knows a person has a warrant and is in his presence it is the duty of the police to arrest that person. He said that they do not actively seek out people with warrants. 
     Councilman Goldman questioned if the Chief walked into Vicki’s Diner and saw someone on the warrant list, would he arrest the individual?  Chief Tracy said that if he knew Councilman Goldman had a warrant he would arrest him. 
     Mr. Gildea said that it was “insinuated” that Mr. Abate was taken out of the meeting because of what he said during public comment, and that the insinuation is “not true.” Though he admitted that the “perception of the timing (was) not stellar” one thing had nothing to do with the other.  Chief Tracy said that he “took offense” to what was written in the paper. He said that the comparison drawn by Westfield Leader publisher Horace Corbin between what he did and the Nazis was, “extremely insulting and absurd.” He said that, “to think any person here could politically use me is absurd.”        
     Councilman Goldman said that the “circumstances (were) less than stellar” and he was troubled when he heard what had happened. He said it bothered him more when it was suggested that the council was aware of the warrants, and that he knew nothing about it.  Councilman Betancourt said that the person that authored an e-mail implying the council knew later retracted it. 
     Mayor McDermott said that when he learned Mr. Abate had been arrested after the meeting he went downstairs to speak to Chief Tracy. “He did his job, that was it,” Mayor McDermott said, “as the chief (he is) always doing what’s best for the town.”  Resident Roz Harrison said that this is an example of something that the town should issue a release about, rather than waiting for The Westfield Leader to report about it.  Mr. Gildea said that he spoke to three newspapers on Wednesday after the meeting. He said that the mayor has asked Chief Tracy to respond to the editorial that appeared in last week’s Leader.  “The publisher wrote what he wrote without contacting me,” said Chief Tracy.  Mr. Gildea said that what Mr. Corbin did was “blatantly wrong” he criticized Mr. Corbin for not contacting the mayor, the police chief or himself before running the editorial.
     Councilman Goldman was seeking some answers to some questions without the inside knowledge of how the police department operates.

     Here are some of the questions that Councilman Goldman should have asked after he had heard Chief Tracy’s responses to his, Mayor McDermott’s and JoAnn Neylan’s questions, provided of course, he had some “inside” information.
     Chief Tracy, if you walked into Vicki’s Diner and saw someone on the warrant list, someone with the name Jackie Hall, would you arrest the individual?  Chief Tracy said that if he knew Councilman Goldman had a warrant he would arrest him.  Well what about Jackie Hall.
     See, Jackie Hall had been arrested numerous times on the “strength” of a warrant.  I know, because one of those times I arrested him along with another patrolman, Dave Wayman who had been aware of a warrant for Hall.  Ptlm. Wayman broadcast over the radio he needed help; I happen to be the first car to respond to that call for help.  When I arrived, Ptlm. Wayman and Jackie Hall were on the ground wrestling.  Jackie Hall very seldom “went quietly.”  That night he would have to be subdued.  As I ran up to help “lock up” Jackie Hall, Ptlm. Wayman, 6’3” and approx. 250 lbs., was doing the best he could to subdue the larger man, all 6’5, close to 275 lbs of him.  As we wrestled him into handcuffs and had to forcibly put him into the backseat of a patrol car, Hall was kicking and spitting, making every attempt to prevent his capture.
     So what about Jackie Hall, Chief Tracy?  On more than one occasion you had the knowledge and the opportunity, in headquarters, to arrest Jackie Hall and you didn’t when he had a warrant for his arrest.  Why not?  Was he a friend, an acquaintance?  After all, didn’t Chief Tracy state to Councilman Goldman that if he knows a person has a warrant and is in his presence it is the duty of the police to arrest that person?
     Another question Councilman Goldman could have asked.... Chief Tracy, you stated you became aware of the warrants a “week or so” before the meeting and when you saw Mr. Abate you went downstairs to verify that the warrants were still active.  How did you “become aware” of the warrants?
     Yet another question……Chief Tracy how did you know that Mr. Abate was previously arrested for six warrants and driving while suspended? 

     If Chief Tracy said he became aware of the warrants a “week or so” before the meeting and when he saw Mr. Abate he went downstairs to verify that the warrants were still active, Mr. Goldman should have suggested that the N.J State Police perform an audit of W.P.D.'s computer system to see if Mr. Abate's name was run that night, the night he was arrested, or any other night he spoke out in opposition of "matters that the council had jurisdiction over" at that time.  What would be the "probable cause?     Lastly…….Chief Tracy, how did you verify that the warrants were still active??



  1. Running out of stuff to post so you're going back to 14 years ago???

  2. This blog has reposted archived stories before.
    The downtown parking and parking deck topic is a hit issue on another social media site and some of those readers frequent this site.
    The arrest of James Abate was a black eye/stain on the town council during a time when a police chief abused his powers.
    Thanks for the comment.

  3. I coulda sworn you just said

    "...during a time when a police chief abused his powers."

    1. Exactly. Abuse of power is the correct term however, his arrogance was such that he thought he had multiple powers.

  4. I'm confused. Are you talking about the former chief or the current chief of police?

    1. In the above blog story, I'm referring to a former police chief.

  5. Drain the swamp