PATERSON, NJ — A city firefighter who was suspended in 2014 after being accused of having an Ohio State football ring that was reported stolen from a fire scene will get $145,961 in back pay now that he has returned to work, officials said.
The criminal indictment against the firefighter, Jose Garcia, was dismissed by a Superior Court judge in September 2015, according to public records. Garcia was reinstated as a Paterson firefighter in March 2016, but has had to redo his fire academy training before resuming work, city officials said.
Municipal lawyers and administrators informed the City Council of the $145,961 payment during a closed-session discussion of the case on Wednesday night.
The ring in question belonged to former Paterson Catholic star Stanley Jackson, who played quarterback for the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 1990s and is the brother of Paterson City Councilman Michael Jackson.
Stanley Jackson has said that two rings — one for winning the Rose Bowl and another for the Big Ten conference championship — were missing sometime after Garcia and other firefighters responded to a blaze at his mother’s house in Paterson about eight years ago.
Jackson said he didn’t realize the rings were missing until he received a phone call in 2014 from a man in Alaska who allegedly bought the Big Ten ring for $1,500 through a New York pawn shop online. Jackson said family friends in the Fire Department also had alerted him that a city firefighter had been seen wearing one of the Ohio State rings a few years ago.
A judge dismissed the indictment over problems with the evidence in the case, according to public records.
Two months after the dismissal, Garcia filed legal notice warning he was considering filing a lawsuit against the city alleging false arrest, malicious prosecution and retaliation. Garcia asserted in the notice that he was framed with allegations involving the rings because he had accused a firefighter who is friends of the Jackson family of sexually harassing him.
Garcia has not yet taken the next step of filing a lawsuit, according to his attorney, Anthony Pope. When asked on Friday whether he planned to file a civil complaint, Pope said, “Right now, I’m in negotiations with them, so I have no comment.”
City officials declined to comment on the case, citing pending litigation and personnel issues.
Councilman Jackson called the decision to give Garcia back pay “terrible.” Jackson said he thought the evidence against Garcia was strong. Jackson said that Garcia’s brother, Richard, a former Paterson police officer, was the person who sold one of the rings to the New York pawn shop. Jackson also asserted that other firefighters saw Garcia wearing one of the rings.
“You don’t have to be a great detective to figure this one out,” the councilman said.
Officials said the $145,961 covers Garcia’s back pay for the 18 months from the time he was suspended until the indictment was dismissed.
From The Paterson Press