Lawyer Accuses Haddonfield Police of 'Vigilante Justice'

The accusation stems from the borough's support of the school board's 24/7 discipline policy. "The evidence doesn't support it," a commissioner retorts.

A lawyer that was triggered by the arrests of students, often for first offenses for alcohol or drug possession, says borough police used "vigilante justice" in not releasing the teens to their parents.

Matthew Wolf says a reprimand from the Camden County prosecutor in 2010 was needed to stop the policy. He said should have offered teens with first offenses for alcohol or drug possession a "station-house adjustment." The station-house adjustment releases the teens to their parents and does not file a charge or court summons against them.

The formal charge by police triggered the 24/7 school discipline policy that often led to the student being denied participation in extracurricular activities, such as sports and band. Wolf says the policy also stripped honor students of participation in national honor societies and unnecessarily punished students.

The after a state Appellate Court ruled a similar policy in Ramapo, Bergen County, was illegal. That policy was so similar to Haddonfield's that the school board filed an amicus brief supporting Ramapo in the case.

Wolf says the Haddonfield police policy was driven by borough Commissioner Ed Borden, a former Camden County prosecutor who now oversees the police as the director of public safety. Wolf says Borden complained to a judge in 2007 after local teens who trashed a vacant borough home during a booze-filled party got off with a yearlong probation. The teens were convicted of defecating in a grand piano, ejaculating into stuffed animals and spraying a urine-filled "Super Soaker" water gun on furniture.

Shortly after that incident, Haddonfield police stopped offering station-house adjustments, Wolf says.

"Instead of complying with the law, the officials in the borough violated the law and resorted to illegal means to redress what they saw as a shortcoming in the criminal justice system," Wolf says.

Borden, one of three borough commissioners, dismissed Wolf's charges.

"I understand that's Mr. Wolf's very convoluted theory," Borden says. "The evidence doesn't support it. I think the courts will make that clear.

"It certainly is the case that I and many other parents were very concerned about alcohol abuse by minors. I do see an obvious role for the police department in addressing that. It's against the law for minors to consume alcohol or for adults to provide it to them in parties or where ever."

Wolf says 50 local teens were charged with alcohol or drug possession offenses from 2007 to 2010 and not given station-house adjustments. He is representing three former Haddonfield students in a lawsuit against the school board for the 24/7 policy.

"Haddonfield was embarrassed that a bunch of juveniles trashed a house and went in the wrong direction, adopted an illegal policy and went rogue," Wolf says. "I think the school board meant well, but the borough knew better."

He said his fee alone is already over $300,000 and a settlement or court verdict in the case could cost hundreds of thousands more.

Joe Betley, the school board solicitor, said the board's repeal of the 24/7 policy will not necessarily lead to a settlement or ruling against the board.

"I do not believe the Ramapo decision exposes the board to the Wolf attorney fees or damages," Betley says. "The board of education should be able to establish reasonable rules for extracurricular activities."

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Maryann Campling August 09, 2012 at 12:41 PM
"Vigilante Justice"....are you kidding!? And the comment.."just because these kids trashed a house." What those kids did was far beyond normal teenage stupidity....I hope they are still getting some psychiatric help because they need it. These parents should put their foot up these kid';s butts instead of lawyering up. Their job is to raise stable, responsible men and women who will be an asset to the community not a liability. Start doing your job....I'm tired of my tax dollars being used to police your kids.
Bill Tourtellotte August 09, 2012 at 02:28 PM
Regardless of what any legal successes or failures he may experience on this, Matt Wolfe is not helping this community or our children to break the widespread and ongoing cycle of substance abuse. The fallout from these activities has been almost entirely concealed by families here for generations, even after tragic results have occurred. These problems are very real and the impact is FAR more widespread than most folks realize of are willing to admit. The Maple Avenue incident are just the tip of the iceberg. This is NOT an image issue. I lost a brother as well as close friends who became addicted here as teenagers in a culture that nobody has been effectively dealing with. Mr Wolfe and his clients are part of the problem and not part of the solution. What's more, continued attempts by him and his clients to soak the town financially is similarly not appreciated by this resident. Most folks who object to the 24/7 policy have never even bothered to read it and that makes their opinion meaningless. If you look it up and read the particulars, you will see that it gives kids chances initially and is obviously intended to get some level of intervention through counseling and knowledge. I would encourage folks to actually read the policy before they spout off about it. Why anyone would be against getting kids and parents assistance, is beyond me. I applaud our BOE and leaders for being courageous and trying to make a difference. Bill Tourtellotte
Rick Muller August 09, 2012 at 03:52 PM
In case anyone else is interested like I was, Here is NJ Attorney General guide to excactly what a "stationhouse adjustment" is. http://www.nj.gov/oag/s-a-guide/
Bill Tourtellotte August 09, 2012 at 06:07 PM
Here is a link of the draft of what I believe was the revised 24/7 policy. students get several chances under this policy as the chart shows and it clearly is intended to help the kids. http://www.haddonfield.k12.nj.us/24-7%20Policy%20-%20Combined%20with%20Coaches'%20Proposal%2011-5-07.pdf
lostinapothole August 11, 2012 at 08:12 AM
The real problem is that Wolf hangs around and hands out his business card to any and all parents who feel like its more important to blame someone else other than themselves or their children for errors in judgement that their children make. Unfortunatley this town has too many parents who just cant stand what they perceive as horrible embarrassment when their kids go astray. So they hire people like Wolf so that blame can be deflected. They are just hurting their kids in the long run, What ever happened to someone being held accountable for their actions?Instead of taking the opportunity to teach their children something very valuable these parents are teaching their children something that is potentially dangerous.
Bill Tourtellotte August 11, 2012 at 11:49 AM
What a fabulous post. Very well put.
Maryann Campling August 11, 2012 at 12:28 PM
As I follow this story I get more and more frustrated. When, in our society, did it become the responsibilty of the schools and police to teach morality to kids!? Why have some parents abdicated their power and their responsibility to the schools/police? Lazy....stupid...or a combination of both? When most of us were raised and when I raised a stepson, breaking the rules had consequences. I'm trying to imagine my Mom and Dad hiring a lawyer; instead, I would have been grounded until I was 35! Likewise, I used to tell my stepson "don't think that this home is a democracy; it's a benevolent dictatorship....you get privileges when you earn them." I know that this kind of parenting makes some folks cringe; but as I've always said...fear is a powerful motivator. I am sorry that the schools/police have to discipline Haddonfield's children, and even more sorry that our tax dollars are funding that effort.


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