After being cleared by a grand jury in early January, police officer Haydee Santana has found her employment with the city’s police force in a state of limbo. She expected to return to duty following a fitness for duty exam; however, no such tests have been scheduled.
Santana’s attorney in a letter late last month accused the city of bungling her employment status. She was placed on “administrative leave” following the Oct. 2016 shooting outside of the police headquarter. Her status was changed to out on “sick leave” two months later even while the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office was conducting an investigation into the police-involved shooting.
Santana would not be cleared until Jan. 10, 2018. She questioned the status change and was told it was an error that would be corrected, according to the attorney’s letter dated Jan. 29, 2018. The error was never corrected.
“It now appears that the Paterson Police Department may have terminated Ms. Santana’s employment,” reads the letter addressed to the city from Santana’s attorney. “Ms. Santana assumes that the termination of her pay is a result of her incorrectly being designated as ‘out on sick leave’ for 365 days as of December 3, 2017 when she should have actually been listed as being out on Administrative Leave.”
Santana did not receive a termination letter from the city. Her last pay check from the city was dated Dec. 15, 2017.
“As you know it’s a personnel matter. I can’t comment on a personnel matter,” said police director Jerry Speziale when contacted for an explanation.
Even under the incorrect leave status, the department cannot halt paying when an officer has been on sick leave for 365 days. The letter cites the department’s own policies and procedures to assert an officer out for 365 days or more and found to be permanently disabled still calls for the initiation of the pension process and a hearing to begin termination.
“The Department cannot simply stop paying an officer in such a situation,” reads the letter.
Alex Cruz, president of the union that represents police officers, did not return a call for comment.
“I can’t even begin to express the level of disappointment. I’m not surprised at all,” said Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman, chairman of the public safety committee. “How do you treat an officer of 24 years like this?”
Santana has been working for the police force since 1994. In all those years, she has never been the subject of any disciplinary actions, according to her attorney’s letter.
“It’s obvious she’s a good officer,” said Jackson on Monday morning. He planned to bring up the matter at the Monday afternoon public safety committee meeting with police brass, he said.
Jackson’s sympathies rested with the family of Larry Bouie of Newark soon after the police-involved shooting. “When the family came to me, my first impression was why would somebody shoot someone like that. Then you get all the information,” he said.
Bouie was behaving erratically outside the Frank X. Graves Public Safety Complex that day. Witnesses described him as being on drugs, according to information released by the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office.
Bouie charged at Santana when she arrived on the scene by herself. She fired a single shot striking him in the abdominal area. “It was a good shoot. He didn’t die. She went to grand jury and she was exonerated,” said Jackson.
The police department poorly handled a sensitive situation involving police lieutenant Washington Griffin that led to a lawsuit that ultimately cost taxpayers $300,000 last week, according to council members, who had to approve the large payout.
William McKoy, 3rd Ward councilman, criticized the department, when he was voting to approve the payout. He said taxpayers were paying to cover an administrative failure within the police department.
McKoy was provided a copy of the attorney’s letter last week. He later did not return a call for comment.
Speziale called suggestions the policewoman’s case could end up in a costly lawsuit as “speculation.”
“The writing is on the wall,” said Jackson.
The letter seeks the city to provide her owed pay for the past two months. It also seeks the department to arrange for her to see a doctor to determine whether she is fit to return to duty.