LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Police Lt. Don Johnson, who has been on paid administrative leave since 2010, returned to work Wednesday after being cleared for duty by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, a township official said.
Mayor John Kehm said that earlier this week the Prosecutor’s Office released paperwork to township officials stating that Johnson, a 24-year police veteran, was fit to return to duty.
Johnson’s lengthy, unexplained absence was reported by The Press of Atlantic City on Sept. 24. Since that report, township residents and the local Policemen’s Benevolent Association have called on township officials to answer why Johnson was still on leave.
Township Administrator Garrett Loesch said he could not comment about the specifics of Johnson’s leave because it is a personnel matter. Over the past month, township officials, including police Chief Richard Buzby, have also declined to comment about what they called an ongoing investigation.
Kehm said he was informed Monday afternoon that Johnson could return to work. Last month, Kehm said there was no timeline as to when Johnson would return to work. He added that the investigation was out of the township’s hands.
The township plans to examine the process and the time limits for an officer to be placed on administrative leave, Kehm said. Currently, the township has no policy limiting how long an employee can be on administrative leave; Kehm has said the township would consider implementing one.
“We welcome him back as a lieutenant as he was in the past. It’s always good to have more officers,” Kehm said.
Johnson was placed on leave nearly three years ago. He continued to collect a salary of $128,877. He also collected benefits and accrued pension credits the entire time.
His salary for 2012 will be $137,453. Under a new collective bargaining agreement, he will be paid $140,202 in 2013 and $143,005 in 2014. The average salary of a patrolman on the 40-member department is $102,986, while the average ranking officer’s salary is $119,398.
Loesch said Wednesday that the Police Department contacted Johnson on Monday and heard back from him on Tuesday. It was confirmed last night that he would return to work.
Johnson will return to duty as a supervising officer, Loesch said.
Buzby did not return a call for comment Wednesday.
“Everything in the process was coming to a conclusion when everyone started asking questions. I’m very pleased to have another supervising officer back, and I think it will be an asset to the township Police Department,” Loesch said.
PBA President Joel Mahr said that officers in the department were excited to see that Johnson has returned to work and that the officers are looking forward to his positive leadership.
“Literally nobody knew he was coming in today. It was a little bit of a shock and everyone was excited to see him come back. Everyone literally found out Wednesday as they trickled into work one by one,” Mahr said.
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