By Mark Mueller
An Edison police officer facing the loss of his job for seeking sex from a woman he met during an emergency call has filed suit against the department, demanding his return to duty and the dismissal of the charges against him.
Patrolman Anthony Sarni, 39, has been suspended with pay since October, when his superiors charged him administratively with engaging in misconduct and lying to investigators.
In his suit, filed Friday in Superior Court in New Brunswick, Sarni contends the department waited too long to charge him, violating the so-called 45-day rule. Under state law, the suit states, investigators have 45 days to charge an officer once sufficient evidence has been collected to support the counts.
Sarni was interviewed by internal affairs on July 26, 2013, when he ultimately admitted propositioning the woman. He was charged departmentally Sept. 27, a full two months later, according to the suit.
The officer’s lawyer, Steven Cahn, also contends his client should not have been charged with lying because, while he initially withheld some information, Sarni came clean before the interview concluded.
"He was worried because everything in Edison ends up in the press, and he was reluctant to discuss a personal incident, but ultimately he told them everything they wanted to know," Cahn said.
In the suit, Cahn cites a transcript of the internal affairs interview in which investigators thank Sarni for his truthfulness.
"Okay, I want to thank you on the record," Lt. Joseph Shannon tells Sarni, according to the transcript. "I know this was difficult. I know you (sic) a lot of things going through you (sic) mind and I can appreciate some of your positions being a father and a husband. Ultimately, I want to thank you for your candor."
The case remained in limbo until last month, when Sarni received a letter announcing the department’s intention to fire him, The Star-Ledger reported at the time. Cahn said he told his client, a veteran of the Marine Corps, it was time to push back.
"This guy has been suspended for eight months on charges I don’t think could ever be sustained," the attorney said. "There have been negotiations about what to do with it, but nothing got resolved. My assessment was it’s time to go on the offensive."
In addition to his reinstatement and the dismissal of the counts, Sarni is seeking to recoup his legal fees.
Police Chief Thomas Bryan declined to comment on the suit.
The incident that led to the charges occurred Sept. 11, 2012.
Sarni, a 10-year veteran who makes $118,000 annually, was one of several officers to respond to a report of a disturbance at the Extended Stay America hotel in the Raritan Center. There he met the alleged victim.
Once his shift ended, Sarni returned to the hotel in uniform and allegedly pressed the woman to engage in a sexual encounter, law enforcement officials told The Star-Ledger last year. The woman rebuffed him and filed a complaint, the officials said.
The woman later told investigators she did not want to go forward with her claim, Cahn said, but the case "seemed to take on a life of its own."
Cahn called Sarni a good police officer who has received numerous commendations and who has repeatedly displayed bravery and intelligence on the job. In this one instance, Cahn said, Sarni simply made a mistake.
"It was an unfortunate incident," the lawyer said. "He made a mistake in judgment on a personal level, and it essentially had very little connection to work. It was a personal issue off duty. If he wasn’t a police officer, nobody would have cared."
Since his suspension, Sarni has lost out on at least $25,000 in overtime and other pay for off-hour details, Cahn said.
Sarni was one of two officers targeted for termination last month. The other, David Pedana, was alleged to have sent racist text messages, some of them directed at fellow officers.
Both officers are entitled to a hearing before any termination takes effect.