In a heated Fair Lawn Borough Council meeting, the focal point of discussions became the firing of Lieutenant Jim Corcoran, who took to the podium to defend his track record, allege systemic issues within the New Jersey law enforcement disciplinary system, and challenge the council to advocate for change.
Jim Corcoran, a police lieutenant facing termination, passionately detailed his career, notably his top ranks in five police department exams.
His legal battles began in 2018 when he felt overlooked for a promotion, prompting him to file a lawsuit for perceived First Amendment rights violations. In 2021, Corcoran found himself under the cloud of internal affairs complaints and was subsequently placed on administrative leave in 2023.
Corcoran voiced concerns over techniques used by municipalities wherein alleged rule violations are leveraged against officers filing lawsuits against them. Citing multiple similar cases in towns like Hackensack and Rochelle Park, Corcoran proclaimed, “There’s something wrong with the system.”
Supported by a letter from his attorney, Marcia Mottola, Corcoran highlighted a 2021 altercation with an individual which led to the internal affairs complaint against him. While the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office found no evidence for criminal charges, they retained administrative investigation jurisdiction due to his active lawsuit. Reading from the letter, Corcoran stated, “terminating Lieutenant Corcoran is a miscarriage of justice, which will be vigorously defended.”
Corcoran was joined by other officers raising concerns. Resident Derek Vastink claimed that he had a long and productive career with the police department until he became a “repeat target of retaliation,” labeling administrative hearings as “Circus Court.” Anthony Serrao, a retired captain from the Fair Lawn Police Department, advocated for Lieutenant Corcoran’s right to a fair trial, expressing concerns about potential biases in borough-paid hearing officer decisions.
Borough representatives interjected to remind attendees that the mayor and council are not involved in any of the hiring or firing process and employment decisions. They emphasized that the board would not be taking any action regarding Corcoran’s employment at the meeting. One representative countered calls for a delay in the decision, stating that the borough manager was required to promptly conduct a departmental administrative hearing under law.
Mayor Kurt Peluso and other council members also touched upon various other important issues at the meeting. They acknowledged September as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, and Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, with Mayor Peluso highlighting troubling statistics associated with them. The Mayor also recognized the Rotary Club of Fair Lawn for 75 years of dedicated service, culminating in the proclamation of August 16, 2023, as the “Rotary Club of Fair Lawn Day.” The accolades were joined by Assemblywoman Lisa Swain, who presented a state proclamation in honor of the Rotary Club.
Additionally, the Mayor praised volunteers who dedicated significant hours to Fair Lawn’s sustainability initiatives. These interns worked alongside the Green Team to devise a sustainability action plan to further enhance Fair Lawn’s environmental goals.