Three arrests — and still on the police force

By Andrew Ford
Published Jan. 22, 2018 by the Asbury Park Press.

The charges ranged from disorderly conduct to robbery to aggravated assault.

It wasn’t the rap sheet of a hardened criminal.

It was an active-duty Weehawken cop listing the charges for which he was arrested. The first two charges were dropped, according to Weehawken’s attorney. For the third, veteran Police Officer Robert J. Jacobson entered into a pre-trial intervention, which is a probation-like diversion program that clears a defendant’s record if completed successfully.

Jacobson described his history of charges when he was questioned during a lawsuit connected to a fourth incident in which he was accused of striking and choking Maria Tullo, a 64-year-old woman who spoke little English.

In other states, the arrest of an officer might prompt a review for decertification, a process in which an officer’s license to be a cop is revoked. But Jacobson did not need to fear decertification – New Jersey has no such process.

The town settled Tullo’s lawsuit on Aug. 31 for $75,000, including $5,000 paid by Jacobson personally and the rest covered by the township’s taxpayer-funded insurance, the settlement shows.

Tullo and her attorney, Nancy Lucianna, are barred from talking. It’s a troubling protocol for handling troubled cops Lucianna has seen many times.

“It does not foster a sense of accountability when you have confidential settlements and you have confidential discovery and depositions,” she said. “It’s wrong.”

“It’s the same thing over and over again,” said John Paff, a New Jersey open records advocate who runs a blog on the topic and occasionally sues towns to open up their files. “Six figures get paid out confidentially; town denies wrongdoing, end of story. There’s no information on whether anything actually happened to the person accused and there’s no way we can find out. We don’t know what the truth is, we’ll never know.”

Ordinarily, the public wouldn’t know about Jacobson’s history –  departments won’t release officer disciplinary history and the documents are usually sealed by a court.

But parts of depositions – sworn testimony in response to questions by attorneys – were attached to public motions in Tullo’s lawsuit, offering a glimpse at Jacobson’s past.

An internal affairs officer testified that Jacobson “had a problem with alcohol” and “went for help for that,” though the officer had never seen Jacobson intoxicated.

An attorney for the town objected to questions relating to prior internal affairs issues with Jacobson, saying anything before the last five years was confidential.

Jacobson admitted he was arrested twice before he joined the force, a history he did disclose to the department when he applied, according to the documents filed in Tullo’s lawsuit. The charges were dropped and Jacobson was later hired as a Weehawken officer in 1995, according to David Corrigan, the attorney for the town.

“You should know that Jacobson was a (military) veteran when he applied and he was on the civil service list so it would have been impossible not to hire him based on arrests that did not result in a conviction,” Corrigan wrote in an email. The Civil Service Commission, a state agency that oversees employment issues for about half of New Jersey, including Weehawken, has a requirement that veterans receive a hiring preference over non-veterans.

While off-duty, Jacobson was arrested again in 1999 and charged with striking a man in a bar with a beer bottle, then kicking him. For that, Jacobson said in the deposition he was permitted to enter pre-trial intervention. Corrigan said the officer served a four-month suspension without pay in connection with the incident.

Jacobson remained a police officer and Tullo claimed in an incident in 2014 Jacobson put his hands on her neck and mouth. A police report shows Tullo describing how she accidentally sprayed Jacobson’s dog with a hose while cleaning her sidewalk and he accosted her. Jacobson told police Tullo sprayed his dog so he pulled his pet away and tried to block the hose.

Corrigan said Jacobson was off-duty at the time.

“It was a neighborhood issue,” Corrigan said. “They both filed municipal court charges. They both voluntarily agreed to dismiss them.”

The depositions show the officer received a written reprimand for the incident.

“I recommended discipline because I felt that his conduct, regardless of whether or not he was a dog lover or not, was unprofessional,” William McLellan, then a deputy chief assigned to conduct internal affairs investigations, said in a deposition.

Jacobson, 59, remains on the force and is paid a $113,504 salary, according to pension records. Jacobson didn’t return a message left for him with the office of the township director of public safety.

“You know, if someone is on the force for 20 years and he has one blemish, that’s really not so bad,” Corrigan said. “You can interpret it that maybe he faithfully served the department for 20 years.”