NJ Police Chief Suspended Amidst Controversy, Federal Charges

Hackensack, New Jersey’s Police Chief, Charles “Ken” Zisa, has been suspended from the force with pay, after administrative charges were filed against him.

The chief’s leave of absence stems from criminal charges filed against Zisa and his former girlfriend, Kathleen Tiernan, by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s office. Prosecutor John Molinelli alleges that the pair committed insurance fraud following a 2008 motor vehicle accident in which Tierney, driving a vehicle that was registered and insured by Zisa, slammed into a utility pole. Police officers who arrived on the scene suspected that Tiernan was drunk, but before they could administer a sobriety test to determine if she had been driving under the influence, Zisa arrived and escorted her away.

Afterwards, according to investigators, Zisa demanded that one of his subordinates falsify a police report, by stating that a rodent crossing the road had caused Tiernan to swerve her car and impact the utility pole. Zisa then filed an insurance claim based on this information.

This is not the first controversy that Zisa has faced. Fifteen current and former officers with his department have named him in separate civil suits, alleging that he abused his authority as Police Chief and as a Democratic state assemblyman for the 37th District, an office he held from 1994 until 2002. They also allege that Zisa retaliated against officers who did not contribute to his election fund, or who refused to back the candidates he supported in county, city and police union elections.

Zisa has denied these allegations but did surrender to police to answer the insurance fraud charges.

Captain Tomas Padilla has been named the department’s acting officer in charge, and it was Padilla who signed the administrative charges against Zisa. The chief has been charged with a violatin pursuant to the federal criminal complaint, and violation of civil service rules and regulations.

Yet the appointment of Padilla is also coming under fire because of his political background and allegations of cronyism with both Zisa and the county Democratic Party. Padilla, a Bergen County freeholder, is named in one of the federal civil suits against Zisa. He is accused of supporting the police chief’s strongarm tactics in soliciting campaign donations—some of which went to his own freeholder election.

Padilla, who says that he plans to step down as freeholder, also said that the complaints against him had been dismissed, but according to court documents, only one set of allegations was dismissed. The others—including one that he conspired with Zisa—remain and will be heard in federal court.

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