A city police officer, removed from the Paterson Police Department payroll following a domestic violence incident, lost his latest effort to regain his job, according to a New Jersey Appellate Court decision issued last week.
John DiTaranto sought reinstatement as a police officer, permission to carry a weapon, and dismissal of departmental disciplinary charges. He alleged Passaic County prosecutor Camelia Valdes’ decision against rearming him was “arbitrary and capricious” because her office’s investigation did not address or acknowledge his psychological reports.
A three-judge appellate panel disagreed.
“Sufficient credible evidence in the record supported the PCPO’s decision against rearming” DiTaranto, wrote judges Ellen Koblitz, Heidi Currier, Jessica Mayer in their four-page opinion issued on May 22, 2019.
DiTaranto’s service weapon was taken away following an Aug. 16, 2015 domestic violence incident. He confronted his ex-wife and her boyfriend, pointing his department issued handgun at the man. As a result of the incident, DiTaranto was arrested and charged with simple assault and criminal mischief, according to court records.
His wife obtained a temporary restraining order against him. His involvement in the domestic violence incident required the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office (PCPO) and the Paterson Police Department to seize his service weapon and conduct an investigation.
Internal Affairs completed its investigation in Aug. 2016, sustaining the allegations against DiTaranto.
On Sept. 12, 2016, DiTaranto was issued a preliminary notice of disciplinary action over the domestic violence incident. He responded by submitting reports from three psychologist, each report recommended DiTaranto be rearmed and returned to regular duty.
On Dec. 6, 2016, the city held a disciplinary hearing. A hearing officer considered the evidence and concluded DiTaranto was “insubordinate, demonstrated conduct unbecoming a public employee, ‘caused a dangerous confrontation while he was in an agitated state,’ and failed to display ‘behavioral control and respect for commands of fellow police officers,’” according to information cited in the opinion.
In Sept. 2017, the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office concluded its investigation on whether to rearm DiTaranto. As part of the investigation, the prosecutor’s office asked a deputy chief, whose name is not mentioned in the opinion, for his written recommendation on whether to return DiTaranto to work on the police force.
“Under no circumstance should,” DiTaranto, “be trusted with the great responsibility of carrying a gun,” stated the deputy chief in his recommendation. A key factor cited by the deputy was 28 Internal Affairs complaints lodged against DiTaranto since 2017. Half of the complaints involved allegations of excessive force, according to the opinion.
In 2016, a man filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging police officers used excessive force against him. Christian Reyes alleged police officers assaulted him. Reyes’ lawsuit mentioned DiTaranto by name. Reyes also accused other unnamed police officers in the case. Municipal officials settled the case by paying $140,000 to Reyes.
The deputy police chief also watched a video of the domestic violence incident, finding it violent and abusive, according to the opinion. Rearming DiTaranto would be “extremely negligent,” concluded the deputy.
The deputy disagreed with the three psychological reports. None of the psychologists observed DiTaranto’s behavior under the stress and rigorous conditions of active duty, reasoned the deputy, according to the opinion.
Without a firearm, DiTaranto was rendered unable to perform his duties.
In Mar. 2018, the city held another hearing to determine whether DiTaranto should be terminated. He was terminated following the hearing.
DiTaranto worked as a police officer in Paterson for 13 years, according to municipal records. DiTaranto unsuccessfully challenged the decision that stripped him of carrying a firearm.
In his appeal, DiTaranto argued the prosecutor’s office failed to file a petition to seize his weapon within the 45 days of its decision not to rearm him. No petition was filed because DiTaranto’s service weapon was returned to the department. The state law DiTaranto cited in his appeal applies to seizure of personal weapons, argued the prosecutor’s office.
A judge ruled against DiTaranto in his initial challenge.
“The statute provides for the return of personally owned weapons seized by the police as a result of a domestic violence incident involving the gun owner,” wrote Koblitz, Currier, and Mayer. DiTaranto’s reliance on the 45-day statute is “misplaced” because the law applies only to personal weapons, says the opinion.
The appellate panel upheld two previous rulings against DiTaranto.