Compelled by a court order, Washington Township police last week released to Patch Media Corp. dashboard camera videos from the July 31, 2012, DWI arrest of New Jersey Assemblyman Paul Moriarty.
Reports included in the release reveal that a call to the personal cell phone of a Washington Township detective from his cousin may have set in motion the events that led to Moriarty's arrest.
It started when Det. Martin Calvello got a tip from his cousin, Ernie Calvello, that Moriarty was possibly drunk at the Turnersville Nissan dealership where he works as a sales manager.
"Ernest Calvello informed me Mr. Moriarty was inside the dealership causing a problem with a salesperson and was possibly under the influence of alcohol," Det. Calvello wrote in a supplementary report dated Sept. 18.
Det. Calvello's report notes that his cousin called back shortly thereafter to inform him that Moriarty—the Democratic Fourth District assemblyman and former Washington Township mayor—had left the dealership "without further incident."
'Not to my recollection'
But during a follow-up interview conducted nearly two months after the arrest, Ernie Calvello could not recall telling his cousin that Moriarty appeared to be drunk when he saw him.
Det. Timothy Breen's synopsis of a Sept. 20 interview of Ernie Calvello indicates that the sales manager's repeated response to questions about whether he had told his cousin Moriarty was drunk or had been drinking, or whether his boss had told him Moriarty was drunk or had been drinking was, "not to my recollection."
This is contrary to a supplementary report filed by Officer Joseph DiBuonaventura, who pursued and eventually arrested Moriarty. DiBuonaventura wrote that Ernie Calvello told him on Aug. 13 that his boss, John Lasala, indicated that Moriarty was "smashed" on the day in question.
Wen Det. Calvello called back to confirm the information, at DiBuonaventura's request, the bosses at Turnersville Nissan "informed [Ernie Calvello] and his co-workers not to provide any statements at this time," the detective noted in a subsequent report filed Sept. 18.
Lasala, who left to take a job at a Nissan dealership in Exton, PA, in mid-August, told Breen on Sept. 19 that "he could not ascertain whether or not Moriarty was intoxicated but repeated that there was alcohol on his breath."
Whisper down the lane?
At the center of the controversy is Ofc. DiBuonaventura, who claimed he had been "cut off" by Moriarty while traveling in the right lane of northbound Route 42 at approximately 3:53 p.m. on July 31, and pulled him over thereafter.
Footage from DiBuonaventura's dashboard camera (watch above) would seem to contradict this account, however. In it, DiBuonaventura's vehicle follows Moriarty's blue 2009 Nissan Murano through several lights along a stretch of the Black Horse Pike before pulling him over in a Chick-fil-A parking lot.
At issue is whether DiBuonaventura's pursuit was initiated by order or by his own intuition.
A supplemental report from Det. Lisa Frattali indicates that when she overheard Det. Calvello's phone conversation she "jokingly" relayed it to DiBuonaventura, whom she says she'd contacted to discuss another investigation.
Frattali said she heard her colleague "talking to someone on the phone about Moriarty being drunk at Nissan" and mentioned it in her call.
"After a minute or two I went back outside and contacted Ofc. DiBuonaventura again and advised him that I had limited information and only overheard that one thing from Det. Calvello and that I didn't know what was going on," Frattali's report states.
"At no time did I instruct Ofc. DiBuonaventura to go to Nissan to investigate anything."
Apparently, however, DiBuonaventura interpreted Fratalli's statement as an instruction to find Moriarty, according to her report.
"On 08/07/12, I received a phone call from Ofc. DiBuonaventura asking me to complete a supplemental report regarding our phone conversation of 07/31/12, and that I had sent him up to Nissan to investigate Mr. Moriarty being under the influence," Frattali's report states.
Investigation turns to the arresting officer
On Aug. 15, superior officers told DiBuonaventura to stop investigating the Moriarty case, as he had become the focus of an internal affairs probe.
. A municipal court judge ruled the following week that there had been probable cause on 13 of those complaints, which included allegations of official misconduct and multiple counts of filing false reports, falsifying reports, and false swearing.
"I feel like you're out to get me or something," the assemblyman told DiBuonaventura as he was being put through field sobriety tests in the Chick-fil-A parking lot.
"Why would I be out to get you?" DiBuonaventura responded.
While at the police station, Moriarty told police on at least two occasions he did not want to take the blood-alcohol test because he had used an antiseptic throat spray earlier in the day, according to Cpl. Nick Myers' supplementary investigation report.
The Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office is currently reviewing both the complaints signed by Moriarty against DiBuonavetura, who remains suspended without pay, and in the DWI case.
Court-ordered information release
Moriarty shared a portion of the dashboard camera video with media on Oct. 19 shortly after he and his attorney, John Eastlack Jr., received copies from Washington Township. Patch was not invited to the press conference at which Moriarty disclosed the video.
Patch Media Corp., the parent company of Gloucester Township Patch initially filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for video from Moriarty's arrest hours after the legislator was taken into police custody. The township denied the request, prompting Patch to sue for the release of the video and other records related to the arrest.
On Dec. 14, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Georgia M. Curio ruled in favor of Patch.
“This is a situation of public concern. The individual who was stopped and is the subject of the dashboard video and the reports is an elected official currently,” said Curio, the assignment judge for the court district covering Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties.
“Obviously, the conduct of a public employee, a police officer, is of concern and interest to the public," Curio wrote. "When we view that against the backdrop of the stated purpose of OPRA and furthering an informed public, clearly the public interest would be served by granting access."
Moriarty's trial date has been postponed more than once in the lead up to his complaints; the venue was also changed to Bridgeton, as Moriarty once served as mayor of Washington Township, where he was arrested.