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Ousted Berkeley Heights Police Chief Files Suit Against Mayor, Township

Bobbie Peer

Saturday, July 5, 2014 • 6:40am

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Police Chief Michael Mathis and Mayor Joe Bruno are embroiled in a lawsuit stemming from a disagreement over whether or not Mathis had resigned his position.

Mathis, a 29-year veteran of the Berkeley Heights Police Department, filed suit against Bruno and the Township of Berkeley Heights seeking to be reinstated as police chief. The civil action complaint was filed Thursday, July 3 in the Superior Court, Chancery Division, Union County.

The issue began on June 16, when Mathis emailed to the township his intent to retire from his position as police chief, effective July 1. In the email, Mathis said a formal letter would follow, but the e-mail would serve as notice.  Bruno accepted Mathis’ resignation and issued an executive order appointing Captain Thomas Schafer as “officer in charge” and fill the role of chief until a new chief could be selected.

According to court documents obtained by TAP into Berkeley Heights, Mathis has been frustrated by events in the police department over the past several years, including what he said were the mayor's failure to honor promises, issues with his compensation, ongoing staffing shortages, and the township's refusal to enter into an employment contract with him. 

Following discussions with Bruno about his retirement, Mathis withdrew his retirement application with the Division of Pensions and Benefits and subsequently advised Bruno that he was not planning to retire and would continue to serve.

The conversations and emails following the June 16 email led to "heated words" being exchanged between Mathis and Bruno, according to court documents.

Mathis contends that Bruno refused to permit him to rescind his resignation and moved forward with the executive order appointing Schafer as "officer in charge."

Mathis maintains that he never used the word "resign," that he had never intended to resign, and that he never actually resigned.

Bruno declined to comment.

The township now has to show cause for its actions, or the court could order that Mathis be reinstated by default.

TAP into Berkeley Heights will update on the status of this matter as information becomes available.

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