HAMMONTON — A guidance supervisor who lost his job after a lewdness charge is fighting to get his job and his reputation back after prosecutors dropped the charges, which were based on the testimony of an officer since-fired for lying.
For three years, Michael Ryan and his wife, Nadine, fought a lewdness charge that cost him, a former Hammonton school district guidance supervisor, his career.
In November, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office declined to pursue a new trial, the charge was dismissed and the family is starting to work toward receiving reparations and being a catalyst for change.
“We were guilty until proven innocent,” Nadine Ryan said Tuesday. “Once it was a police officer who signed the complaint, we were guilty having to prove our innocence.”
“The damage done to our family emotionally and financially is irreparable,” said Ryan, 53. “Of course, it’s nice to be vindicated. However, restoration is the next step.”
Earlier this month, the couple filed a tort claim notice against the Eastampton Township Police Department and the officer who signed the complaint, Michael Musser.
Eastampton police Chief Joseph Iacovitti did not return a request for comment.
Musser, who was terminated from the department after the internal affairs investigation, was adamant Thursday he didn’t falsify any reports or misidentify Ryan.
“I saw him,” he said during a phone interview. “I can identify him. I’m not going to wrongly accuse someone of doing something that they weren’t doing.”
Musser said he is appealing his termination and he plans to fight Ryan in court if a lawsuit is brought against him.
“I’m a fair, straight shooter,” he said, explaining he has 18 years of law-enforcement experience. “I’m going to have to stick up for myself.”
Ryan has also communicated with the school district about getting his job back.
Hammonton school board President Sam Mento said he is happy Ryan’s charges were dismissed and that the board authorized Solicitor William Donio “to begin a dialogue with Mr. Ryan’s attorney.”
Donio did not return a request for comment.
The tort notice, dated Jan. 8, cites the false report filed by Musser claiming Ryan was seen masturbating in the parking lot of South Jersey Laundry on Sept. 11, 2015.
As a result of the complaint, Ryan was charged with lewdness, a disorderly persons offense, and found guilty in Absecon Municipal Court. He was sentenced to one year of probation and $664 in fines.
“They thought I’d just pay my $664 and serve my one year of probation and go away,” Ryan said, shaking his head.
“I was told by law enforcement in Hammonton that (Musser) was a trained police officer and had in-depth training and there was no way that he got it wrong and I was a wife in denial,” Nadine Ryan said.
But the Ryans continued to fight.
In May 2017, Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Donna A. Taylor denied an appeal, and her decision named Musser as the officer who signed the complaint.
Then, Nadine got a phone call from a friend — whose identity she has never disclosed, not even to the family’s lawyer — saying she should look into an allegation that Musser was under an internal affairs investigation.
“That’s when things turned around for us,” Ryan said.
Musser was under investigation for lying on the job during the time of Ryan’s trial, a fact that was not disclosed to the defense, violating Brady v. Maryland, a 1963 Supreme Court decision that requires prosecutors to disclose exculpatory, or potentially exonerating, evidence to the defense, according to court records.
In a letter sent to Absecon Municipal Court Judge John H. Rosenberger on Nov. 30, Assistant Prosecutor Kathleen E. Robinson said, “The state has declined to continue the prosecution of defendant Ryan.”
Although the charge was ultimately dismissed, the process left a lasting impression on the family.
“I expected there to be a level of excitement, of celebration, but we were flat,” Nadine said of the dismissal. “To this day, we are still processing. We’re happy, but the justice system failed us.”
She added that their children, a daughter and a son, who were 12 and 10 at the time of the incident, have learned from the experience.
“They now learned to question,” she said. “What I’m thankful for is that they still trust our law enforcement but they don’t take anything for granted.”
Ryan, who was suspended from his position at the Hammonton school district when he was charged and terminated after being convicted, said it’s been difficult dealing with the loss of income after building a 29-year career in the district.
As part of moving forward, the couple wants to spread their story so others who are going through a similar situation can have hope.
“What we’re saying is, what happens to people that don’t have resources or a means to get a good attorney?” Nadine asked. “The damages that we incurred are irreparable. How can we sit by and let this (justice) system continue?”
While he’s pleased with the final outcome of his case, Michael said, he’s disappointed his family was traumatized for three years to reach a dismissal that should have happened within the first few days.
“Life as I knew it does not exist anymore,” Ryan said. “But I’m looking forward to a day when I can look back and say we have healed, recovered and it is behind us now.”