By Charlotte Huffman
ROBBINSVILLE TOWNSHIP, NJ (CBS) — A Jersey City Police Department insider speaks out about an alleged DUI cover-up and how it may have cost the former police chief his job.READ MORE: Philadelphia Weather: Flood Warnings Across Tri-State Area As Nor'easter Dumps 2 to 3 Inches On Region
“I’m here today to expose what I believe to be a bigger issue of political corruption,” said the insider who has first-hand knowledge of the inner workings of JCPD.
He spoke exclusively to I-Team reporter, Charlotte Huffman following Huffman’s investigation which revealed how a suspected drunk driver was let off the hook because he was a cop.
- Click here to watch the I-Team’s investigation, “DUI Cover-Up?” – aired June 25, 2015.
An alleged DUI cover-up:
On the night of January 30, 2014 Vincent Corso was stopped on Route 130 South in Mercer County.
Corso is a sergeant with the Jersey City Police Department and the 1st Vice President of the local police union.
According to police reports, a Robbinsville Township Police Department officer stopped Corso after witnessing Corso speeding “at over 70 miles per hour” in a 55 mile per hour zone with “the driver’s side headlight out” and “crossing over the center white dotted line.”
In the RTPD dash cam video obtained by the CBS3 I-Team, Corso can be heard informing the RTPD officer that he is a sergeant from Jersey City’s force.
Several RTPD officers respond to the scene to assist and one of them can be heard describing Corso as “smashed.”
“If you get in that car right now, I’ll lock you up for DWI. You are so ****** up right now you can’t even speak right,” an RTPD officer told Corso.
- Watch the full dash cam video here. Warning: language includes profanities.
According to RTPD investigation reports obtained by the I-Team, Corso was “found to be highly intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle.”
- Read the RTPD investigation reports here.
“I was able to detect an overwhelming odor of an alcoholic beverage emanating from within the vehicle,” an RTPD officer wrote in his report.
On scene, RTPD officers decided Corso was too drunk to be carrying a weapon.
While attempting to take his gun, Corso “resisted police officer control” and was put into a “compliance hold” on the hood of a RTPD patrol vehicle.
A person “found to be highly intoxicated while operating a motor vehicle” would likely be given a sobriety test, maybe arrested and charged with a DWI.
A person who resists police can be charged with disorderly conduct.
Both charges carry jail time.
But Corso was not given a sobriety test. He was not arrested nor charged.
RTPD Sergeant: “Sir, this is what we are doing, okay? We don’t have much [sic] options but this is what we are doing. You are not going to be placed under arrest. You could be and you know the repercussions of that, okay. What we are doing is we are going to tow your car to the police department parking lot. We are going to bring you to the police department. You are not under arrest, like I said. From there we are going to contact the supervisor in your department to have an officer come to our department to give you a ride.”
CORSO: “Thank you. “
RTPD Sergeant: “What transpired is obviously generating an investigation report for us and our lieutenants, chain of command are going to obviously be aware of this whole situation. But this is the best possible outcome at this point.”
CORSO: “Thank you. That’s good.”
RTPD Sergeant: “I will tell you this – if your department does not cooperate by sending an officer to help you out …” (CORSO: “They’ll send someone.”) … “it’s going to be handled a bit differently, okay? … I want you to understand, which I’m sure you are aware but I don’t know your impairment, but I want you to understand we are going beyond the norm here. We are extending a professional courtesy here.”
CORSO: “I’m a sergeant too so I appreciate it.”
RTPD officers towed Corso’s car for him and transported Corso to their department where he was picked up by Jersey City officers.
The incident status was “cleared” and the case was “closed.”
Former West New York police officer and expert on police behavior weighs in:
CBS showed the dash cam video to Richard Rivera, a former police officer and expert on police behavior.
“Corso got the white glove treatment by the Robbinsville police department. Corso should have been arrested. The (Robbinsville) officers should have done their job and they backed down from that … If it was someone else they would have been arrested already,” said Rivera.
Robbinsville’s mayor and Director of Public Safety, Dave Fried has a different opinion.
Robbinsville’s mayor defends actions of RTPD officers:
“I do think our officers handled it in a professional manner,” he told investigative reporter, Charlotte Huffman.
HUFFMAN: “What do you say to some people who may watch this and with everything going on in our nation right now might say this reinforces their belief that police can do anything and get away with it?”
FRIED: “I completely disagree.”
HUFFMAN: “A lot of people would argue that’s a double standard.”
FRIED: “You’re assuming they gave him a break.”
HUFFMAN: “Well, didn’t they?”
FRIED: “I don’t look at it that way. They turned him over to his department … When we turn someone over to another department we expect they’re going to follow through.”
Mayor Fried went on to defend the actions of his officers by saying RTPD complied with a request from JCPD.
“You have to understand from the context (RTPD officers) didn’t just let (Corso) go home. He was picked up by his police department who had asked for him back. When another department asks for their officer back … we don’t know what’s really going on so we turn him over to that department.”
The I-Team obtained further records and found no evidence to support the mayor’s claim that JCPD initiated the “professional courtesy” by asking for Corso to be returned to them.
Records indicate it was the Robbinsville officers who extended the offer to JCPD – not vice versa.
- (This is the conversation that took place when Robbinsville dispatch called Jersey City dispatch to verify Corso’s employment.)
- The following quotes are from RTPD officers and are taken from RTPD reports:
- An RTPD Sergeant “notified Jersey City Police in reference to to [sic] the situation and requested someone to come and pick him up.”
- “I would attempt to contact a supervisor of the Jersey City Police Department to advise him of the situation (in hopes that a fellow officer would be detailed to respond to RTPD Headquarters to take custody of Mr. Corso’s handgun, uniforms and to ensure that Mr. Corso was taken home safely without further incident). I then returned to RTPD Patrol Car #15 and advised Mr. Corso of the same intended course of action should both he and his department cooperate.”
- JCPD officers “agreed with our request to take custody of Mr. Corso”
- “We were attempting to extend a ‘professional courtesy’”
“Professional courtesies” are illegal but happen “all the time”
Legal experts tell the I-Team “professional courtesies” are against the law. It is up to the officer who finds enough probable cause to stop a driver to follow through and if necessary, make an arrest in the jurisdiction where the incident occurred.READ MORE: Crashes, Wet Roads Plaguing Philadelphia Area On Tuesday Commute
Rivera says what happened in Robbinsville that night “seems like business as usual.”
The JCPD insider told Huffman that “professional courtesies” or preferential treatment “happen all the time” and it is not uncommon for a cop suspected of driving while intoxicated to be given a get out of jail card for free.
So, how far do “professional courtesies” go?
HUFFMAN: “Who else do police officers in Robbinsville offer ‘professional courtesies’ to? Other law enforcement officers or elected officials?”
FRIED: “Listen, I can’t answer that question to you.”
HUFFMAN: “Well, what about you mayor? Have you ever been extended a “professional courtesy?”
FRIED: “I have not.”
“Typically, police officers receive a lot more discretion than the average citizen when they find themselves in that position of driving under the influence and that’s what took place in Robbinsville,” the JCPD insider told Huffman.
The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office declined to answer the I-Team’s questions about the incident or why the prosecutor’s office did not launch an internal affairs investigation into RTPD.
Instead, spokeswoman Casey DeBlasio sent the following statement:
“Our position was, and is, that the incident did not warrant a criminal investigation of the conduct of the Robbinsville officers.”
“With everything going on in our nation right now, what do you say to people who might say this case is another reason why they’ve lost trust in police officers?” Huffman asked the JCPD insider.
“I would say there are so many hard working, professional, honest police officers out there and until we weed out this kind of corruption, those officers are our only hope,” he said.
“I think it is situations like this that give police a bad name,” said Rivera.
Mayor Fried promises change – no more “professional courtesies” in Robbinsville
Mayor Fried says it won’t happen again. He confirms “professional courtesies” will no longer be extended in Robbinsville.
“Were we perfect? Absolutely not. Will we get better? Of course we will. But will we hide from things we’ve done right and wrong? Absolutely not,” he said.
No punishment for Corso on the Jersey City end either
Corso never faced charges in Jersey City and is still on the police force.
There is no indication he was ever punished administratively by JCPD and when asked, city officials could not provide a disposition proving he received any punishment.
“(Corso) was not held accountable that day on the Jersey City end for obvious political reasons,” the JCPD insider told Huffman.
Corso is 1st Vice President of local union
According to the Police Superior Officers Association’s website, Corso is the 1st Vice President of PSOA, Jersey City’s police union for supervisors.
Corso is also the 1st Vice President of Lodge 4, the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) chapter representing Robbinsville. The FOP is comprised of over 325,000 regularly appointed or elected and full-time employed law enforcement officers of the United States, any state or political subdivision thereof, or any agency.
Corso’s brother in law, Lt. Robert Kearns is the President of PSOA. Kearns is one of two officers who picked Corso up from the Robbinsville police department on the night he was pulled over.
Despite numerous attempts to contact Corso, the I-Team has not yet heard back.
Kearns has not returned calls either.
How an alleged DUI cover-up may have cost JCPD’s Chief of Police his job
In 2013, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop appointed Robert “Bubba” Cowan as Chief of Police.
In a June 25, 2014 letter from Fulop to then-Chief Cowan, obtained by the I-Team, Fulop removed Cowan from the department citing a need for “structural changes.”
At the time, Cowan had more than three decades of service with JCPD.
The alleged cover-up of the Corso incident in January 2014 is now at the heart of a lawsuit that Cowan recently filed against Jersey City and Fulop, among others.
- Click here to read the Cowan’s full complaint filed in New Jersey Superior Court.
According to the complaint, Cowan claims he was removed from his position largely because he wanted to launch an internal affairs investigation and prosecute Corso who “had past-job related issues with intoxication.”
In 2003, Corso and other JCPD officers were caught on camera drinking while on duty.
In the suit, Cowan claims he was retaliated against by Fulop and others because Fulop “was attempting to win favor” with the local police union, PSOA “in connection with Fulop’s desire to run for Governor.”
The JCPD insider says he believes Cowan was removed for “trying to do the right thing.”
“It’s outrageous behavior for the political cover-up of a serious incident,” he said.
Jersey City officials remain tight lipped
Jersey City declined the I-Team’s requests to interview Mayor Steven Fulop and Public Safety Director, James Shea.
Citing pending litigation, a Jersey City spokeswoman said she was unable to answer the I-Team’s questions.
Have a story you want the CBS3 I-Team to investigate? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow CBS3 Investigative Reporter Charlotte Huffman on Twitter: @HuffmanCBS3
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