Government employees receive significant due process rights to challenge employer discipline which private sector employees and employees in non-civil service jurisdictions do not enjoy. However, because New Jersey employment law recognizes the great responsibility placed on law enforcement officers, the Legislature has enacted robust procedures for police officers not covered by civil service to appeal discipline to the Superior Court. Nonetheless, in the case of Miller vs. Borough of Berlin Police, the Appellate Division reminds us that the burden of proof remains on the officer and evidence is king.
Jason Miller was a police officer with the Borough of Berlin Police Department, a non-civil service jurisdiction. He was dispatched to a banquet hall because of a report of the theft of a purse. Surveillance video showed an employee taking the purse, the manager gave Officer Miller the employee’s name and address, and Miller took a victim statement. Miller told the victim that the employee was clearly identifiable and would be charged with a crime (as the victim told him she wished), and that the case was a “slam dunk.” However, Miller did not follow up or press charges, and stated in the incident report that the victim did not wish to pursue criminal charges. Several days later the victim called the Department to follow up. Another officer took the call, and eventually other officers arrested the employee, who confessed.