BUENA BOROUGH — Members of the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office examined police records and interviewed members of the Police Department on Friday, but local officials said Wednesday they did not know who or what was the target.
Prosecutor Ted Housel said in a statement Wednesday that “this office has had a presence at the Police Department” for an unspecified period of time. Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman Haleigh Walz said the presence was “an officer,” but declined to comment further.
No charges have been filed.
Last year, Housel’s office oversaw the Linwood Police Department for 51/2 months while it investigated the department’s chief. Chief James A.E. “Jim” Baker was cleared of wrongdoing, and he subsequently retired.
Borough Solicitor Richard Tonetta said when he arrived at the municipal building at about 8 p.m., investigators had already been there for about two hours. Investigators were in the office of Police Chief David Sherma, one of the department’s four rooms, Tonetta said.
Tonetta said investigators arrived without prior notice and interviewed on-duty officers. He said he did not know what questions were asked.
“They were not disclosing any questions, and I certainly didn’t ask,” Tonetta said.
Investigators on the scene and Chief Assistant Prosecutor James McClain would not say why the investigators were at the police department, Tonetta said.
“They’re not telling us anything,” he said.
Sherma went on temporary medical leave Tuesday to deal with back problems, Tonetta said. Sherma, speaking at his home in the Landisville section of the borough, said he did not know when he would be back at work.
“I’m just on sick leave,” Sherma said.
He had no comment on the investigation.
Sherma, 37, became a full-time officer in 1997 and was named the acting chief in May 2010. He became permanent in January 2011, and was paid $76,708 last year.
In Sherma’s absence, the department is overseen by Lt. Lawrence Petrillo, who also declined comment Wednesday.
Buena Borough is a small community in the far western corner of Atlantic County, near Vineland in Cumberland County. The 4,603-person town is home to the St. Padre Pio Shrine in its Landisville section.
The police department contains nine full-time and seven part-time officers, Tonetta said. It answers about 12,000 calls for service annually, according to its website.
Tonetta said he hoped for clarity. While he said he understood the need for discretion, “when you don’t know what’s going on, you can’t dispel rumors.”
Borough Council President Joseph Santagata said he was called late Friday afternoon and said investigators had sealed the evidence vault. Santagata, a former borough police chief who retired in 1992 after 25 years on the force, described that action as a routine step in investigations.
He said he did not know what direction the investigation was taking.
“There’s a lot of speculation, but I don’t want to speculate,” he said. “They’re not telling us anything.”
Borough police were last in the news in September when Officer Ronald Bonilla sued the borough and Sherma, claiming there was systematic discrimination against Hispanics.
The federal lawsuit is ongoing, with a meeting between the parties scheduled for June 25.
Sherma’s attorney, William J. Hughes Jr., declined comment. Adam Kleinfeldt, attorney for Bonilla, did not return calls seeking comment.
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