Chief blames suspension on questions
Plainfield mayor denies the action was tied to question on applicant
BY JULIA M. SCOTT
When the Plainfield mayor put the police chief on paid leave two weeks ago, she said it was because she didn't want her criticism of the department to land her a role in a lawsuit the chief filed last year.
Now a lawyer for top cop Edward Santiago claims his client was booted hours after voicing concerns about the promotion of a department employee.
The employee, dispatcher Cynthia Crawford, is married to the president of the police union, which last week publicly supported Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs's removal of Santiago.
"He raised questions and questioned the qualifications of that person," said Santiago's attorney Todd Shea. Two hours later, Santiago received a letter that he was being put on leave. "The timing of it certainly gives the inference of retaliation," Shea said.
Robinson-Briggs said she was not aware Santiago had been consulted on the promotion. "There was no retaliation," she said.
Crawford filed for an open position as dispatch supervisor shortly before Santiago was removed, said her husband, Andre Crawford, president of Plainfield Policemen's Benevolent Association Local 19.
Santiago was perceived as an ally of former Mayor Albert McWilliams, who fought with the union over a new contract. In the November election, the union endorsed Robinson-Briggs, who beat McWilliams.
Andre Crawford dismissed Shea's claim that the two incidents were linked.
"They're just trying to cloud the issues," he said. "All of this is really irrelevant." Crawford deferred further comment to the union's vice president, William Tyler.
Civilian employees in the police department and police officers are promoted by the safety director in consultation with the chief, said personnel director Karen Dabney. Employees are ranked by their scores on a state test, which factors in military service and seniority for cops. The chief and safety director must choose from the top three scores, Dabney said.
Robinson-Briggs names Lt. Ron Lattimore acting chief. Lattimore is the brother of former safety director Michael Lattimore and ranks lower than several captains on the force. The mayor said she chose Lattimore on the advice of safety director Martin Hellwig.
"I followed his lead as an expert in that field," she said.
Santiago's leave stems from a lawsuit he filed against the city in August, claiming his reputation was tarnished after former safety director Michael Lattimore suspended him for a day in 2003. He has been with the department for 30 years. Santiago was appointed acting chief in 1998 and chief a year later, making him the first Latino to hold the job.
Julia M. Scott covers Plainfield. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (908) 302-1505.
This article appeared in the print edition only of the Star-Ledger, Tuesday, February 28, 2006, Union County section, page 25.