Police Officers, Progressive Discipline, And Dishonesty

Torres Mayfield was an officer with the Atlantic City, New Jersey Police Department. In the early morning hours on April 1, 2006, a deaf woman identified only as “J.M.” sought help from police complaining that she was assaulted by Officer Mayfield, her boyfriend. Mayfield assaulted her because he thought she was communicating on a computer with an old boyfriend. That night J.M. was distraught, upset and scared. She was treated in the hospital and photographed. The pictures confirmed bruising on the left side of her face in at least three places, left upper arm and chest.

J.M. eventually dismissed the domestic violence charges against Mayfield, and initially refused to testify in his disciplinary hearing. J.M. did not want to testify against Mayfield because he was the father of her child and they resided together. When she was arrested and forced to appear at the disciplinary hearing, she was defiant and appeared distraught, upset and scared.

During the investigation, Mayfield said that on the night in question he was with Rodney Jamal Armstrong and Ali Cottrell. Mayfield told the investigating detective that when they arrived at his house, J.M. said she was hit by a boot thrown by Mayfield’s son. Armstrong testified he was at a club with Cottrell, but not Mayfield. Armstrong said Mayfield called him telling him and Cottrell about the boot.

An administrative law judge disbelieved the testimony that J.M. was struck by a boot, and found that Mayfield was untruthful by attempting to create an alibi and blame his son. The ALJ concluded that Mayfield was guilty of conduct unbecoming a public employee when he beat J.M. and lied during the investigation, and upheld Mayfield’s termination.

Mayfield appealed to the Appellate Division of New Jersey’s Superior Court, arguing that his termination “flies in the face of progressive discipline.” The Court disagreed, noting: “An employee’s past record can be a relevant consideration when determining the reasonableness of the penalty imposed. However, that is not always the case. To the contrary, judicial decisions have recognized that progressive discipline is not a necessary consideration when reviewing an agency head’s choice of penalty when the misconduct is severe, when it is unbecoming to the employee’s position or renders the employee unsuitable for continuation in the position, or when application of the principle would be contrary to the public interest. Progressive discipline has been bypassed when an employee engages in severe misconduct, especially when the employee’s position involves public safety and the misconduct causes risk of harm to persons or property.”

The Court found that “a police officer is a special kind of public employee. His primary duty is to enforce and uphold the law. He carries a service revolver on his person and is constantly called upon to exercise tact, restraint and good judgment in his relationship with the public. He represents law and order to the citizenry and must present an image of personal integrity and dependability in order to have the respect of the public.

“Mayfield was guilty of conduct unbecoming a public employee when he beat J.M., and guilty of failing to adhere to the Department’s rules governing standard of conduct when he lied during the investigation. The ALJ determined that the offending behavior alone supports the penalty. We do not substitute our views of whether a particular penalty is correct for those of the body charged with making that decision. The question for the courts is whether such punishment is ‘so disproportionate to the offense, in the light of all the circumstances, as to be shocking to one’s sense of fairness.’”

In re Mayfield, 2010 WL 2195730 (N.J. Super. A.D. 2010).

This article appears in the July 2010 issue