Trending Topics

Embattled N.J. police chief berated cops, was accused of racial profiling, report says

The report details several alleged instances of the chief aggressively confronting officers, including an incident that led to a physical altercation during a DUI traffic stop

By Matthew Enuco

BRADLEY BEACH, N.J. — A new report detailing the alleged pattern of misbehavior of an embattled New Jersey police chief was released by authorities Friday — the day of his early retirement.

Bradley Beach Police Chief Leonard Guida was chided for a wide range of alleged behavior in the internal affairs report, released to the public Friday by Monmouth County Prosecutor Raymond S. Santiago. Guida officially retired the same day, after being placed on administrative leave following public reports of a physical altercation with one of his officers during a November 2023 traffic stop in town.

“The findings outlined in this report illustrate unmistakably that over the previous year and a half, Chief Guida has been an active hindrance to the very law enforcement agency he was entrusted to lead,” Santiago said in a statement accompanying the report.

“The picture the report paints is not pretty, but that is precisely why we felt that it was so vitally important to publicly release it.”

Messages left for Guida were not returned Friday. He previously declined to comment on questions about the November altercation when reached by NJ Advance Media .

The investigation into Guida’s conduct as police chief began in August 2023 after an anonymous complaint was filed with the county prosecutor, authorities said. The investigation expanded in November after the confrontation with Sgt. William Major during a crash investigation. (Major was also pinged in the report for his conduct in that incident, but is reportedly still on the job.)

The wide-ranging report included probes of nine alleged incidents involving the chief, and what the prosecutor called 28 “sustained” findings of instances in which Guida violated various rules governing police and employee conduct in Bradley Beach. Several of the violations were of Attorney General and Prosecutor’s Office rules detailing proper police conduct, Santiago said.

The initial anonymous complaint that launched the investigation involved a suspicious persons stop during National Night Out in August 2023. The tipster, who said he was walking home from work while stopped by police, alleged racial profiling, the report said.

The report noted Guida directed two of his officers to question the man, noting to them he was Black. Investigators determined the stop was a violation of the Fourth Amendment based on four conflicting stories from Guida about why the man was stopped.

“To be frank, this stop is troublesome,” the investigators wrote in the report, and noted that racial motivation for the stop could not be “discounted.”

The report also details several alleged instances of Guida aggressively confronting officers and publicly berating them with foul language. In one reported incident, while off duty, Guida criticized an officer for allegedly improperly responding to a scene and threatened to fire the officer. In another reported incident during the Latin Festival in 2022, Guida allegedly threatened to never promote an officer after a confrontation with him.

The report also includes allegations that Guida was drunk while committing some of the violations sustained in the investigation.

The report redacts the names of officers who spoke to investigators, in what the Monmouth County Prosecutor called “small acts of bravery.”

“Our investigation would not have been possible without interviewing members of a particularly small police department,” Santiago said. “This report should not be misconstrued to reflect poorly on the Department at large, as the actions of one person do not negate the excellent work of so many other individuals.”

Guida has been chief in Bradley Beach since 2007. The public wasn’t told he was placed on administrative leave from his $202,500 job until a resident raised questions at a council meeting in December. At the time, public officials declined to answer questions about Guida, saying it was a personnel matter.

It wasn’t clear Friday how much Guida’s pension would be. He was first hired as a public employee in 1983.

“I want to thank the Monmouth County Prosecutors office for their thorough investigation and report,” Bradley Beach Mayor Larry Fox said in a statement Friday. “Their collaboration with us and their hard work is much appreciated. This is a difficult time for our community; and I am confident we will move forward and focus on all the positives in Bradley Beach.”

Fox told NJ Advance Media on Monday Guida was retiring several months earlier than he planned to. The Bradley Beach Council issued a no confidence vote against Fox at Wednesday’s council meeting for his handling of the incident involving the chief, according to TapInto.

“I am shocked by the horrific abuses outlined in the Prosecutor’s report,” Councilman Al Gubitosi , the council liaison to the police department, said late Friday night. “I don’t understand how such chronic abuse was tolerated for so long.”

Gubitosi noted that as liaison he serves as a conduit between the police department and the council, but “it is not a role designed to investigate or monitor department activity.”

“After reading this report, my concern first and foremost is for our police department and the brave men and women who endured this documented abuse for so long.

Gubitosi said he questions the reasons for “the weakness of Mayor Fox’s unilaterally imposed sanctions” on the chief. He also accused Fox of withholding the prosecutor’s report from the council for six weeks — something the mayor denied.

“The Borough followed the lead and direction of the Monmouth County Prosecutors office,” Fox said Saturday. “Following the initial report, a number of reviews, meetings, and discussions were held with all parties involved. Confidentiality was an essential part in this process. The Borough Council got a summary as soon as I was able to provide it. The actual redacted report was not completed until Friday, March 1st, and I sent to the Council immediately, prior to public release.”

Fox also said he notified the rest of council on November 17 about placing the chief on leave.

Editor’s Note: The article has been updated to include additional comments from Mayor Fox and Councilman Gubitosi.

©2024 Advance Local Media LLC.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.