SAYREVILLE, NJ—County law enforcement is being unusually quiet about a Sayreville police officer that was caught covering up his patrol car's on-board camera for reasons that remain unclear, according to a document obtained by New Brunswick Today.
The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office (MCPO) has been known for its secrecy, especially in cases where fellow law enforcement officers are the defendants, but this case stands out among the rest.
Unlike numerous other cases of Middlesex County cops being charged with crimes during the tenure of County Prosecutor Andrew Carey, Carey's office has not yet publicized this incident.
Given the limited information that has been made public in the case, it is still far from clear why 33-year-old Officer James Pizzillo allegedly tried to prevent the camera from doing its job.
Pizzillo was hired in January 2015, and earns a salary of just over $55,000, according to published reports. It's not clear if his suspension is with pay or without pay.
According to single-page of the criminal complaint, Pizzillo "concealed" a camera in his patrol vehicle "specifically by putting his hand and/or a piece of cloth over the camera in an effort to conceal his whereabouts and/or activity."
Typically the MCPO can be counted on the "break" the news of local cops getting busted, but Patch.com's Carly Baldwin was the first to report on this criminal case, in an article that declared Officer Pizzillo had been "arrested in Woodbridge Township on Saturday, April 8, while he was in his Sayreville patrol car."
"Pizzillo has been removed from duty while the Middlesex County prosecutor's office continues its investigation," wrote Baldwin on May 25, more than six weeks after the alleged arrest.
As Baldwin reported, Pizzillo's brother is a Sayreville police officer, and his father is a retired police chief with the South Amboy Police Department.
In February, it was that department that became the first to have one of its officers criminally charged in 2017, when Detective Matthew Barcheski was charged with official misconduct, a second-degree offense for allegedly stealing cash from a police evidence locker.
Given Pizzillo's deep ties to local law enforcement, it's quite strange that the prosecutor's office did not take over the case before the charges were filed, instead leaving Sayreville Lt. Timothy Brennan to sign his name to the complaint.
It's also unclear if Woodbridge was merely the scene of the arrest, or if Woodbridge Township's police were also involved.
Either way, this isn't the first time that Brennan is investigating one of his own officers on the Sayreville force. In 2013, he was credited with bringing a theft by deception case against Officer Steven Gulick, in conjunction with the MCPO.
Gulick was a landlord who married one of his tenants, thus making her ineligible to continue collecting a federal housing subsidy.
But he later admitted that he continued to receive and cash rent checks that were paid by the Sayreville Housing Authority on behalf of the woman, totalling over $20,000.
Despite other media outlets picking up on the Pizzillo story, the MCPO still has not released a press statement on the incident more than a month after filing charges.
According to the one-page complaint provided by the MCPO, the violation is said to have occurred in Sayreville, and the charge wasn't filed until April 25. The offense date is listed as April 8.
The charge is tampering with public records, a fourth-degree offense under statute 2C:28-7.3(c).
The law states that a person is guilty "if he purposely and unlawfully alters, destroys, conceals, removes or disables any camera or other monitoring device including any videotape, film or other medium used to record sound or images that is installed in a patrol vehicle."
New Brunswick Today filed a request under section 3(b) of the state's Open Public Records Act, which requires law enforcement to respond "within 24 hours or as soon as practicable" with information including "the circumstances immediately surrounding the arrest, including but not limited to the time and place of the arrest."
But the MCPO's response was late, and did not include either the time or the place of the alleged arrest.
According to the Middlese County Jail's records department, Pizzillo has never checked in the facility, meaning that he was either released on his own recognizance, or never arrested in the first place.
Even though the charging documents were more than a month old when New Brunswick Today filed our records request, it took the MCPO more than five days just to provide the one-page complaint summons, part of a larger seven-page document.
On the document, Pizzillo's address was redacted, even though he is the defendant in the case, allegedly "in order to protect and ensure the safety of individuals."
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 was an independent candidate for Mayor of New Brunswick in 2018.