ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, NJ — The Englewood Cliffs Police Chief — who was allegedly recorded saying he’d like to kill the former council president — is no longer leading the department.
The council on Wednesday night voted unanimously to suspend Michael Cioffi without pay for 120 days, which would take him to his mandatory retirement date in January, Mayor Mario Kranjac said.
He will still face administrative charges and can still be terminated, the mayor said.
The council also voted to hire two hearing officers who would weigh administrative charges that were filed against Cioffi, two captains and a lieutenant concerning remarks that were made on 120 tapes that Cioffi made himself while wearing a digital recorder at work.
The chief handed over those recordings during the discovery phase of a federal lawsuit he filed against the borough. Most have been marked confidential, but snippets that are not classified have been played in public by Carrol McMorrow, the borough’s council president who resigned last week.
On them, Cioffi is allegedly heard saying he’d like to kill McMorrow, but can’t. Another person is heard making disparaging remarks about Councilman Mark Park and the chief is allegedly heard conspiring to take down the Republican mayor during work hours.
The council voted 3-2, along party lines, twice in the past two weeks against hiring hearing officers. And a Superior Court Judge overruled the mayor’s decision to place the chief on a paid administrative leave while a theft charge is pending against him concerning the digital recorder, which Cioffi has still not returned to the borough despite being asked repeatedly, Kranjac said.
But with the council chambers filled to capacity Wednesday night, and even more people spilling into the hallway, the council voted unanimously to place Cioffi on an unpaid suspension.
“We were trying to figure out a way to discipline Cioffi but not bring more liability to the town,” said Democratic Councilwoman Ellen Park, who has said that 21 lawsuits have been filed against the borough since Kranjac took office 2016.
“It wasn’t that we didn’t want to hire a hearing officer,” she said, adding that the chief was given a RICE notice prior to the Wednesday meeting.
Kranjac, who was the fist Republican mayor elected in more than 40 years in the borough, said he attributed the council’s turnabout to public pressure. “The vast majority of the people who were there last night spoke out against the the hatred,” he said.
Former Council President Carrol McMorrow spoke to the governing body during the public comments portion of the meeting where she paraphrased comments from another tape — number 102 — on which, she said, the chief made sexual comments about her and there were racist comments made about Councilman William Woo and former Councilman Zhi Liang.
“This has been a terrible experience for me and my family and anyone else on the tapes,” McMorrow said Thursday. “I want all those people who have been defending and covering up for Chief Cioffi to be held accountable.”
“The residents deserve to have full disclosure and a full investigation and whatever that leads to, everyone should be held accountable. This issue is the town’s chance to finally clean up and start fresh for our residents,” she said.
The raucous council meeting, which ran past midnight, was attended by members of the public, police representatives and attorneys for police officers who are up on administrative charges.
“I attended the meeting last night and was shocked by the proceedings,” said David J. Altieri, an attorney for the chief. “The mayor clearly has no respect for the law, particularly when it serves as an impediment to his political vendetta against the chief.”
Albert Wunsch, an attorney who represents Capt. Brian Murphy, who is also facing administrative charges, was escorted out of the meeting by a police officer after what he described as challenging the mayor.
“I was sick and tired of his bullying,” Wunsch said, adding that Kranjac interrupted speakers who opposed his view and didn’t allow Democratic council members to participate in the discussion.
Wunsch said in a phone interview Thursday that if the council did hire hearing officers concerning the administrative charges against Murphy and the other police officers they did so illegally because the captains and lieutenant were not issued RICE notices.
“The Constitution is merely rumor thanks to Mayor I-hate-police Kranjac,” Wunsch said.
The attorney also accused Kranjac of having assaulted Murphy at a community event in August 2017, for which internal — not criminal — charges were filed. Nothing ever came of them, Wunsch said.
“It demonstrates the fact that this guy doesn’t like cops,” said Wunsch. “He acts with impunity.”
Wunsch also added that his client’s family has been in Englewood Cliffs for five generations. Murphy’s father was police chief and his brother’s worked for the department of public works.
“These are salt of the earth people,” he said. “And this man is trying to take their jobs away because he has a hatred for cops.”
Kranjac says Wunsch has an issue with him because he wasn’t reinstated as the borough’s public defender.
“What I hate is corruption,” the mayor said. “And I feel there is a lot of corruption at the leadership of this police department.”
The suspension of Cioffi — who is one of the highest paid police chiefs in the state with a $234,824 salary — was effective immediately. Lt. David Hill was put in charge of the department.
Hill, Kranjac said, is heard on the tapes challenging Cioffi over the chief allowing officers to carry weapons they were not qualified to use.
At the end of the council meeting, Councilman Ed Aversa tried to generate a motion to dismiss all the administrative charges. It failed to go anywhere. Aversa could not be reached immediately for comment.