HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — A police officer who failed to arrest an off-duty state trooper in 2008 for alleged drinking and driving had just been allowed to return early from a suspension for causing a fatal car accident, police confirmed Monday.
Hamilton Township police Officer Ronald Gorneau returned to work April 23, 2008, from unpaid leave that resulted from him smashing into a car while on duty March 10, 2007. The other driver, William Jackson, 81, was pronounced dead two hours after the accident.
Gorneau had been responding to a call, driving at 90 mph on Route 50 without his lights or sirens on.
The township Police Department initially ordered Gorneau to stay home and lose five months’ pay, but later agreed to let him come back to work after four months of unpaid leave. In exchange, Gorneau promised to work one month of paid vacation he had accumulated, police Lt. Ed Barr said Monday.
One week after his return, Gorneau stopped off-duty State Trooper Sheila McKaig. She told Gorneau she had been drinking. Gorneau did not ticket or arrest her, but took her back to the local station, where McKaig’s colleagues picked her up.
The incident prompted scrutiny by former Police Chief Jay McKeen. He ultimately realized McKaig had been pulled over and let go before, nine times by nine different officers in the township, Barr said. Three of the stops, including Gorneau’s, involved suspected drinking.
McKeen notified State Police. He also improved communication among the department’s 67 police officers and made other changes to prevent the preferential treatment that can result when police abuse their discretion, current Police Chief Stacy Tappeiner said Monday.
“In this particular case, (McKeen) determined that the discretion ...was done far too leniently due to the driver’s profession and the lack of communication about the number of stops within the department,” Tappeiner said.
Less than a year after McKeen came to that conclusion, he described Gorneau’s post-suspension job performance as “exemplary” and “unblemished.”
McKeen was unavailable Monday for comment.
The Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office did not respond to questions about whether it had reviewed the McKaig incidents.
All officers involved still work for the department, Tappeiner said.
Tappeiner took over for McKeen when McKeen’s retirement took effect at the start of this year.
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