By Andrew Ford. Published Dec. 3, 2020.
A Neptune police internal affairs investigator was worried about Sgt. Philip Seidle.
Seidle was under investigation in July 2014. He was having “marital issues.” He put his gun on then-Deputy Chief James Hunt’s desk. He tried to retire.
“It is evident from his past history of family issues and disciplinary incidents that there is reason for concern,” the investigator wrote in a long-secret police document revealed for the first time Wednesday by the Asbury Park Press.
Though internal documents on Seidle called for action, whatever his department attempted left Seidle in a position to kill.
Seidle’s department brought him back to duty. They gave him back his gun.
About 11 months after he tried to turn in his pistol, Seidle fatally shot his ex-wife using his service weapon.
Seidle, 56, gunned down Tamara Wilson-Seidle, 51, after running her car off the road in Asbury Park in June 2015. His 7-year-old daughter was in his passenger seat.
“It’s simply a crime of passion that could not be anticipated,” Monmouth County Prosecutor Chris Gramiccioni said at a 2016 news conference.
Seidle’s internal affairs file shows his department knew about “domestic violence incidents” involving Seidle before the shooting.
One heavily redacted internal affairs report acknowledges Seidle was involved in a domestic violence incident in March 2014. He screamed profanities at arriving officers, according to a report previously released by Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office.
“Seidle’s behavior and unprofessional conduct towards his fellow officers is unacceptable and is in violation of rules and regulations,” the newly released internal affairs document shows. “His history of numerous violations of departmental rules and regulations and prior domestic violence incidents are clear indications that he has little or no regard for his responsibility as a member and supervisor of this department.”
“His supervisory position as a sergeant holds him to a higher standard than his subordinates,” the report says. “Specifically, his irate behavior during his domestic incident is reason for concern and some type of further action should be taken to mediate any further incidents from occurring.”
“It’s obvious he had trouble at home,” said police expert Rich Rivera. “It’s also obvious that his peers knew that he was having problems at home.”
The file was released by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office following a lawsuit by the Press to compel Neptune to make it public.
The file is missing forms that are standard in internal affairs investigations, Rivera noted. The attorney general’s office acknowledged making redactions, but it’s unclear why pieces might be missing.
“This is the worst maintained internal affairs file I’ve ever reviewed,” Rivera said. “And I’ve looked at over 1,000 of them.”
Rivera said such files are usually neat, orderly and organized. He concluded the file given to the Press was either incomplete or substandard.
“This looks like somebody threw a pile of paper in the air and then put them together in a PDF,” he said.
Seidle’s file shows he faced other performance issues over the course of his 22-year career. He was reprimanded for taking too long to administer a breath test for a suspected drunken driver, and another time for using “rude profane language” to paramedics. He was suspended for mishandling evidence and suspended for failing to show up to an assignment.
Seidle declined to comment on the release of his file, referring a reporter to an attorney who didn’t respond to an inquiry. Seidle previously denied that he abused his ex-wife.
“Tamara did not become a victim until I killed her that day,” he previously told the Press.
Seidle was sentenced to 30 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter.
Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office didn’t respond to questions Wednesday about Seidle’s history, referring a reporter to the attorney general’s office. Prosecutor Gramiccioni previously placed blame for the killing on Seidle alone.
Through an attorney, Neptune Police Chief James Hunt declined to comment. The attorney, Jonathan F. Cohen, said in an email the Prosecutor’s Office is responsible for deciding to disarm or rearm police officers, not the police department.
Police internal affairs files are ordinarily closely guarded from public view in New Jersey.
The Press filed a lawsuit in 2017, in which a judge ruled the newspaper should get access to Seidle’s file under the common law – a process that involves the judge deciding whether the value of releasing the document outweighs reasons not to release it. The judge ruled the Press is entitled to collect attorney fees, a decision Neptune appealed. That appeal is ongoing.
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office initially argued against the release of the document to the Press. At a state Senate hearing in July following nationwide protests sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said he’d reconsider his office’s position. His office released the file Wednesday “to increase transparency and enhance public trust…”
“I hope that these disclosures, which build on the information and records already in the public domain, will shine further light on this matter and inform the debate over what, if any, changes are necessary to avoid such tragic incidents in the future,” Grewal said in a statement.
“Our fight to open the records helped convince the state attorney general to do the right thing and release the documents so the public could see why Philip Seidle should never have had his service weapon returned to him,” Asbury Park Press Executive Editor Paul D’Ambrosio said. “The police department and Neptune’s elected officials spent a lot of taxpayer money to keep this 800-page internal affairs file hidden. Hopefully others will learn from the mistakes the department made over the decades.”
Grewal, who took office more than one year after the Seidle shooting, made reforms to police internal affairs practices, including implementing an “early warning system” that flags for review officers exhibiting troubling behavior.
“All of these measures are designed to promote accountability and ensure that problem officers are identified and properly addressed,” a spokesperson for Grewal said in a statement.
Grewal is also battling police unions in court over his move to name police officers subject to major discipline.
Grewal’s office declined to say under what circumstances they’d release another officer’s internal affairs file. His staff also declined to comment on whether they’d release the file of John Formisano, a Newark officer accused of fatally shooting his wife while in uniform in July 2019.