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HELMETTA, NJ—Richard Recine resigned from the Helmetta police force this week, after a bizarre ordeal where he and the town’s Police Director Robert Manney forced a citizen to leave a public building.
A video of the incident has sparked a controversy that put the tiniest town in Middlesex County in the national spotlight, attracting attention from online media outlets and outrage about the cross-over between politics and policework.
A 13-year-old child was videotaping the encounter when Recine said that the US Constitution was no longer in effect, because “Obama has just decimated the friggin’ Constitution.”
The man who the officer was having words with, Steven Wronko, said he was just trying to file an Open Public Records Act request at the town’s municipal building which also includes its police station and court.
“I don’t give a damn because if he doesn’t have to follow [the Constitution], I don’t have to follow it,” says Recine on video, after Wronko cited various legal precedents for why he was allowed to be in a public building and take photographs.
“That’s the law of the land, you have to follow it, whether what [Obama] does or not.” responds Wronko.
“Then you tell [Obama] that,” reponds the officer.
According to the Star-Ledger, officials said that Recine served for more than 29 years on another New Jersey police department before he retired and took a part-time police officer job in Helmetta.
The Star-Ledger reported his pay rate was $13.39 an hour.
“Nowadays, with all the terrorism and everything else, people have a right to know who’s walking around, who’s recording,” Recine said at one point, attempting to justify his own investigation.
The man he challenged, Steven Wronko, says that he was himself investigating the treatment of animals at the town’s Animal Shelter, after he rescued a dog that ended up costing thousands of dollars to treat for an infection.
“I have major objections of what’s going on over there, at the shelter,” the video begins. At one point, Wronko hands the recording device off to his 13-year-old daughter, Erin.
But Recine took issue with Wronko’s presence and the Police Director agreed with Recine.
After the officer made the astonishing comments about President Obama and the Constitution, the Police Director appears in a dress shirt and tie.
“Either you’re going to get out or you’re getting locked up,” said the Director as he and two officers escorted Wronko from the building.
Robert Recine, a former City Councilman in New Brunswick who served 16 years as an elected official, is the cousin of the officer at the center of the controversy.
But Robert Recine is a Democrat, whose name has appeared on yard signs and campaign literature that placed his name alongside the President’s.
The former Councilman declined comment when reached at his county job.
Robert Recine has worked in for Middlesex County since 1996, the same year he joined the New Brunswick City Council. He has served multiple stints as the city’s Council President.
Helmetta is located about 20 minutes south of New Brunswick. Sandwiched between Monroe, East Brunswick, and Spotswood, it is home to just over 2,300 people.
The town was also the focus of another police controversy related to allegations made by Manney’s predecessor that the Mayor was forcing cops to issue a large number of tickets to non-residents who pass through the town.
Police Director Manney did not respond to a phone message left at his office.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate and a community organizer, and an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick.