A judge has dismissed the criminal case against a northern New Jersey police chief accused of using officers to perform escorts for his private funeral home business.
Superior Court Judge Marilyn Clark dismissed the indictment earlier this month, saying suspended Saddle Brook police chief Robert Kugler hadn’t violated the intent of a 1978 ordinance barring police escorts “to and from banks, or for any other purpose.”
Newspaper articles introduced by the defense report that the intent of the township’s council was to prohibit police escorts for merchants making deposits, a drain on police manpower. The judge said she didn’t believe that “the topic of banning police funeral escorts ever occurred to them, or was ever in any way their intention.”
Clark said the attorney general’s office should have let the grand jury know that it was a common practice for Saddle Brook to provide police escorts and that Kugler never derived any economic benefit from them. Clark said that if the state presents the case to a grand jury a second time, it must reveal all the exculpatory evidence.
Kugler was charged in March 2021 at about the time he entered the Republican primary for sheriff of Bergen County. He stayed in the race after his indictment in September 2021, at which time he was suspended without pay. He subsequently lost the general election to Democrat Anthony Cureton by fewer than 17,000 votes.
After the judge dismissed the case against him, Kugler vowed to seek reinstatement as chief, calling the case brought against him by the state Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability “a false narrative.”
“Although I am extremely disappointed by what my family and I had to endure in this matter over the past 18 months, the disappointment is now overshadowed by looking forward to returning to serve the community of Saddle Brook as their chief of police, a position that I have served since 1995,” he said.
State Sen. Joseph Cryan, D-Union, called on Attorney General Matthew Platkin to conduct a review of the way the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability handles its cases, citing other criticism from judges over its actions.
Platkin defended the work of the office and said in a statement that its attorneys and investigators are already subject to Internal Affairs review that can result in discipline such as “suspension, termination, and criminal referrals where appropriate — a level of oversight that unfortunately does not exist for other public officials.”