A major Sussex County story not covered by the Herald
There are many residents of Sussex County who acknowledge that their local newspaper -- the New Jersey Herald -- is too chummy with county insiders on the Freeholder Board, SCMUA, and in county government. Others disagree, but the Herald has shown a less than even-handed interest in certain stories.
For instance, for the better part of six months, the Herald focused an enormous amount of attention on a minor incident that occurred at a GOP event at the close of the 2016 election. That matter was closed without "probable cause" ever having been determined, without a charge ever being filed.
The Herald went so far as to allow an active candidate for elected county office -- Democrat Freeholder candidate Dan Perez -- to use its pages to make the claim that an individual was guilty of a crime. Inexplicably, the Herald failed to report that this was a clear violation of the attorney "Rules of Professional Conduct." The Herald also allowed Mr. Perez to use its pages to publish a tall tale of conspiracy against Senator Steve Oroho and others. It was all unfounded, made-up, and false. But it was printed and distributed by the Herald in furtherance of the cause of Daniel M. Perez.
And that is why we marvel at the restraint and the refusal to publish even a single word about the following story. It concerns a major accusation of wrongdoing in Sussex County. It appeared last week in The Record of Bergen County, its Passaic County affiliate, the Paterson Press, and on NorthJersey.com -- but not in the Herald. The Herald must be aware of this, but have been silent on the subject.
Accusations surface in sexual assault case: Was it political pressure or police mishandling?
Abbott Koloff, Staff Writer, @AbbottKoloff Published 5:00 a.m. ET Sept. 29, 2017 | Updated 10:42 a.m. ET Sept. 29, 2017
The woman was getting divorced. The man told her he was in the midst of a breakup.
After a chance meeting over the winter, the two — who had known one another in high school — decided to meet for a drink. It was an opportunity to catch up and commiserate over failed relationships.
But that January night in a Sussex County bar has led to an immensely complicated case peppered with accusations of retaliation, political pressure and mishandling of the case by police.
An investigation, including a review of police and court records as well as interviews by The Record and NorthJersey.com, shows:
- Sexual assault allegations were brought by the woman to the state police.
- A trooper filed the charges in a municipal court; they were dismissed the next day in Superior Court, at the behest of the Sussex County prosecutor.
- The woman, through the police union, claimed she was pressured by the Prosecutor's Office into dropping the charges.
- The union strongly hinted that prosecutors were motivated by the defendant’s father being a “politically-appointed executive in Morris County.”
- The Prosecutor's Office denied those accusations, saying that there wasn't enough evidence to pursue the case and suggesting that state police overstepped their authority in bringing the charges.
As a result of the tangled mess,17 state troopers have been reassigned; a labor grievance has been brought against state police officials; and the Sussex County Prosecutor this week released a detailed, two-page statement defending the office's handling of the case.
Mike Bukosky, a police union attorney, said in an email that the troopers "used their training and experience to act 100 percent in good faith to assist and protect the parties involved."
Sussex County Prosecutor Francis A. Koch has denied that any members of his staff acted improperly or for "any alternative motive," and that they all sought “solely to uphold the law,” and always take into account "victims’ rights." He specified that none of his employees knew the defendant "or anyone in his family."
Sex assault alleged
The saga began when a woman, who The Record and Northjersey.com is not identifying, walked into the Sussex Station of the state police in Frankford on Jan. 31. Her claim: she was sexually assaulted nine days earlier in the parking lot of Boomer's Place, a bar in Hampton.
A week later, after giving his own statement to police, the man she accused was arrested and charged with second-degree sexual assault and fourth-degree criminal sexual contact.
Ian M. Schweizer, 35, spent one night in the Keogh-Dwyer Correctional Facility in Newton before records show the charges were dismissed and he was released.
Records also show he was living at the same Newton address as his father — Glenn Schweizer, who recently retired as the executive director of the Morris County Municipal Utilities Authority.
The case hinged on what appear to be two very different statements about what happened in the early morning hours of Jan. 22 — each version laid out in affidavits signed by a state trooper, Justin DeLorenzo.
Schweizer told police that he and the woman were kissing in the parking lot of Boomer's and that she touched him sexually before he put his hands down her pants, according to an affidavit. DeLorenzo wrote that Schweizer said "he went too far by doing so and it upset the victim at which time the victim entered her vehicle” and “abruptly departed."
The woman, in an interview with The Record, said she knew Schweizer from when they were students at Kittatinny Regional High School years ago.
They planned to get together after a brief conversation during a recent chance meeting, she said, when she told him she had been going through a divorce and he told her he had a young daughter and also was going through the breakup of a relationship.
She said she “never touched him in a sexual way."
She told police she backed away when Schweizer tried to kiss her, according to court papers, and that he grabbed her as she told him to stop.
The affidavit said Schweizer "pushed her against the exterior of her vehicle and forced his hands down her pants" before she "screamed and pushed him away from her. She immediately entered her vehicle and fled.”
DeLorenzo wrote that Schweizer sent a text message to the woman a short time later, at 2:47 a.m. “Sorry if I got carried away,” it said.
“I told him he really scared me,” the woman told The Record.
DeLorenzo filed the related complaints and affidavits on Feb. 7 in the regional municipal court in Wantage.
A prior arrest
The woman told The Record that she waited nine days before going to police because she was "in shock" and had been replaying the incident over and over in her mind.
The affidavit says she contacted a friend who worked at the bar shortly after the incident to tell her about it. She said in The Record interview that she decided to go to police because she became afraid after learning Schweizer recently had been arrested for violating a restraining order in Morris County.
Schweizer was charged on Dec. 31, 2016 with simple assault in a domestic violence case out of Mount Olive, where he had been living, according to court records.
He struck a woman in the leg "with an unknown instrument used as a weapon," police wrote in a criminal complaint. The woman suffered an unspecified injury and declined treatment, according to an incident report. Court records do not specify whether a child who lived at the home witnessed the incident but indicate that a child was "present."
In January, Schweizer was arrested twice, on the 18th and the 30th, for allegedly violating a restraining order, according to Morris County Jail records. The status of charges related to those arrests were unavailable this week.
Schweizer pleaded guilty to the simple assault charge on March 27 in Mount Olive municipal court, records show.
Troopers and prosecutors clash over sexual assault charges
In the Sussex case, DeLorenzo consulted with other troopers before filing the criminal complaints, according to the police union. Court records show a municipal judge, Glenn Gavan, found probable cause for the charges.
Bukosky, the union attorney, said that ruling indicated the judge found police actions "to be entirely appropriate.”
It is not clear, however, whether the judge knew that prosecutors had not approved the charges. Gavan did not respond to an email requesting comment.
Koch said his office declined to approve the sexual assault charges — and then moved to have them dismissed — because "the office did not believe there was sufficient evidence to establish probable cause."
That move set off a dispute between the two agencies.
The State Troopers Fraternal Order filed an amended unfair practice charge with the state Public Employment Relations Commission, known as PERC, a little more than two weeks ago.
The complaint alleged that some troopers were improperly moved out of the Sussex barracks because they pursued the woman's sexual assault complaint against the wishes of prosecutors.
According to a union letter to the state, at least seven of the troopers had been based in that county. They included DeLorenzo, who filed the sexual assault charges in apparent defiance of prosecutors, and Darran Crane, a union representative.
Bukosky said this week that some of the 17 reassigned troopers were sent to Sussex County to replace disciplined officers.
The union said in the grievance that Schweizer's father had “political ties” but did not accuse him of taking any actions to intercede in this case on behalf of his son. It also characterized Schweizer's statement to police as a "confession."
Schweizer's attorney, Robert Schwartz, denied that characterization, saying it “was not a confession” and “did not fulfill the elements of the crime being charged.”
Schwartz also noted that a Superior Court judge later did not approve a request by the woman who made the accusations for a final order of protection, checking a box indicating the allegations had “not been substantiated.”
This week, Koch, the Sussex County prosecutor, took the unusual step of addressing the allegations in some detail, saying in a statement that he felt "compelled to respond" even though the labor complaint was directed at state police officials who disciplined the officers and not at his office.
He said he made the decision to drop the charges after reviewing affidavits and taped interviews. He also pointed to new legal requirements — part of the bail reform law that went into effect on Jan. 1 — requiring police to get an assistant prosecutor’s approval before filing charges for indictable offenses.
The prosecutor said during a Feb. 8 Superior Court hearing that his office wanted to “more fully investigate this matter,” according to a court transcript. This week, he said he doesn't anticipate filing charges in the case.
Explosive charges by the union
In its grievance, the union alleged that members of the Prosecutor’s Office tried to get the woman to agree with their decision to dismiss the charges, telling her the defendant was remorseful and “didn’t ‘fully’ rape her.” They added that a jury would not believe she would have been able to fight him off, as she told police, because he is 7-feet tall. Schweizer is 6-foot-7, according to court records.
“They were trying to get me to say it didn’t happen,” the woman said in her interview with The Record, adding that she filed a complaint against the Prosecutor's Office with the state Attorney General's Office. "I know the truth, and that’s what matters.”
Assistant Prosecutor Seana Pappas and Lt. Jennifer Williams participated in the interview with the woman, which lasted 2 1/2 hours, according to the union.
In a phone conversation with DeLorenzo, Pappas allegedly threatened to "start a war" if the trooper went ahead with the charges. The union said troopers also received calls from First Assistant Prosecutor Greg Mueller, who allegedly said there would be repercussions for their actions, and from Koch himself saying that he intended to dismiss the charges.
The union alleged that unidentified “members of the Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office” contacted high-ranking state police officers about the matter leading to "every member of the Sussex County State Troopers Unit involved in the case” being transferred on or about March 1 “in retaliation” for actions taken related to the sexual assault charges.
The state police have not yet filed a response to the grievance and declined to comment on the case, citing a “pending internal investigation.”
The state Attorney General’s Office also declined to comment.
The dispute will now work its way through the administrative law system, with a conference set for October.
Joe Malinconico of Paterson Press contributed to this article.