Las Vegas POA

Officer Forfeits Pension After Conviction For Obstruction

Written on 02/28/2020
Will Aitchison

Michael Lalley was a police sergeant in Newark, New Jersey. In early 2010, he was approached by agents of the FBI seeking his cooperation with an investigation of fellow members of the Department. Lalley declined to cooperate in the investigation. Unbeknownst to him, during the same time period the FBI was also investigating his sexual relations with M.H., who was then 17 years old, and other minors Lalley encountered in the mid-1990s. Lalley became aware that the FBI had spoken to M.H. and would contact him again.

In an interview on January 11, 2010, M.H. informed the FBI that Lalley had called him on January 4, 2010 and instructed M.H. to lie for him. M.H. also stated that Lalley had paid him for sexual acts while M.H. was a minor and that their sexual relations went on for approximately two years at a frequency of one or two encounters per week.

On January 12, 2010, Lalley called M.H. During the conversation, which was recorded, he again instructed M.H. to lie to the FBI about their past sexual relationship. Lalley told M.H.: “They don’t know nothing about me and you. But you gotta back that up if they ask do you – Did you ever have sex with me? No. Right?” On January 19, 2010, Lalley called M.H. a third time and again instructed M.H. to conceal their prior sexual relations.

On February 16, 2010, the FBI filed a criminal complaint against Lalley, charging him with obstruction of justice and witness tampering based upon his recorded statements to M.H. He was subsequently indicted by a federal grand jury and in December 2010, Lalley pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice by attempting to tamper with a witness with intent to hinder, delay, and prevent the communication of information to a law enforcement officer relating to the commission of a federal offense.

While the criminal charges were pending, Lalley applied for a service retirement with 20 years of credit. The Police and Fire Retirement System denied his application, finding that Lalley’s entire PFRS service and salary credit should be forfeited due to his “dishonorable service.” He challenged the forfeiture through the court system.

An appeals court upheld the forfeiture order. The Court listed 11 factors that bear upon whether a pension is forfeited for dishonorable service: “(1) the member’s length of service; (2) the basis for retirement; (3) the extent to which the member’s pension has vested; (4) the duties of the particular member; (5) the member’s public employment history and record covered under the retirement system; (6) any other public employment or service; (7) the nature of the misconduct or crime, including the gravity or substantiality of the offense, whether it was a single or multiple offense and whether it was continuing or isolated; (8) the relationship between the misconduct and the member’s public duties; (9) the quality of moral turpitude or the degree of guilt or culpability, including the member’s motives and reasons, personal gain and similar considerations; (10) the availability and adequacy of other penal sanctions; and (11) other personal circumstances relating to the member which bear upon the justness of forfeiture.”

The Court held that “law enforcement officers are held to a higher standard of conduct than other public employees and are obliged to act in a reasonable manner. Law enforcement officers must present an image of personal integrity and dependability in order to have the respect of the public. Every police officer has an inherent duty to obey the law and serve with good faith, honesty, and integrity. This higher standard of conduct applies to the behavior of law enforcement officers on or off-duty.

“Despite his 20-year career as a Newark police officer, Lalley was terminated from employment as a result of his witness tampering. He was federally prosecuted, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice by attempting to tamper with a witness, and was sentenced to federal prison followed by supervised release. By any measure, his misconduct was egregious. Lalley’s misconduct was also directly related to his employment as a Newark police officer. Lalley’s conduct violated his oath of office, undermined his ability to perform his duties, and tarnished the reputation of the entire Department. Moreover, his obstruction of justice was motivated by his attempt to conceal his sexual relations with minors that occurred early on in his career as a police officer. The victims of that conduct were children that Lalley was sworn to protect.”

Lalley v. Board of Trustees, 2019 WL 7206311 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2019).

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