Last month, the 22-year-old police officer son of North Plainfield Police Chief William Parenti was charged with drunken driving in Warren Township. Released to his father’s custody, William Parenti Jr. refused to take a Breathalyzer test, officials said, but was allowed to remain on duty because state guidelines do not allow suspensions without pay for motor vehicle offenses.
Now, another North Plainfield police officer says Parenti Jr. was improperly hired, and claims he was targeted with disciplinary action when he accused the chief of falsifying documents to help get his son into the police academy.
The officer, Mark Messinger, who is also the department’s former union president, is threatening to file a whistle-blower lawsuit, his attorney said. The controversy over Parenti Jr.’s hiring came to light after he was stopped by Warren police about 2 a.m. on May 16. After allegedly refusing to take a Breathalyzer test, he was arrested and released to his father’s custody, officials said. Though he was allowed to remain on duty, Parenti Jr. faces a municipal prosecution and possible job loss because of the arrest. A lawyer for Messinger, who is a delegate to the state Policemen’s Benevolent Association and a former president of the North Plainfield PBA, said his client was suspended for 14 months after accusing Chief Parenti of “falsifying documents” so his son could attend a 2011 police academy class. “My client’s complaint is that the paperwork was fudged to accommodate the chief’s son,” the attorney, Charles Sciarra, said. “They’ve known about the complaint, and they continue to retaliate against my client.” Parenti signed a document swearing his son was hired as a full-time officer in late 2011, according to a March 2012 letter from the state PBA to the Attorney General’s Office.
Documents obtained by the PBA show Parenti Jr. was actually a special police officer when he was placed in the academy. According to state guidelines, special police and full-time officers are supposed to attend separate academies and full-time officers must already have a promise of employment when they enroll. The PBA letter claims Parenti signed a document swearing his son had been hired as a full-time officer, and that was not true at the time.
Questioned about the controversy, Parenti said Messinger’s suspension was unrelated and the hiring complaints were nonsense. At an internal affairs hearing last month, North Plainfield officials argued Messinger has been the target of numerous internal complaints and failed a fitness for duty examination last year. Parenti and the Attorney General’s Office say the incident has been blown out of proportion by Messinger and union leaders. Parenti said he signed the wrong training card when his son applied for the academy, and had him placed in the correct one as soon as he was notified of the error. “There is no deception. There was never any trickery,” he said. “I’ve been in contact with the Police Training Commission from the very beginning.” Paul Loriquet, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, echoed those comments. An investigation showed Parenti made a mistake but did nothing improper, said Loriquet, who would neither confirm nor deny an investigation into the allegations of retaliation against Messinger. Sciarra, the attorney, was skeptical. “These mistakes sound very convenient,” he said. “But with that said, my client wants to go back to work and continues to be denied that opportunity and that is what we need to address.”
Messinger requested his internal affairs hearing be made public and tempers were hot when the proceedings began May 29. During his opening remarks, Sciarra took several potshots at Chief Parenti. “It wasn’t like (Messinger) was drunk driving, asleep at the wheel, law enforcement comes up and grabs him. It wasn’t like he falsified some forms to get somebody into the academy,” Sciarra said. Kevin Lyons, the PBA delegate to the state’s police training commission, called the incident “disturbing” in the 2012 letter and questioned the basis of Messinger’s suspension. In an interview, Lyons said he contacted the Attorney General’s Office twice in the last year, but never received a response. “I can’t believe it’s falling on deaf ears,” he said.
Parenti said he is more focused on his son, whose future with the department could be in jeopardy. “As a parent it’s heartbreaking. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare when your kids go out and something happens,” Parenti said. “As a parent first, I’m going to deal with the situation and we’ll see what life brings us.”