An in-depth exploration of a sexual relationship that a Palisades Interstate Park police officer had with an emotionally troubled scofflaw — and how authorities handled each of them after it came to light — has been published by
The Village Voice,
based largely on documents from an internal department investigation.
“ When a Cop Lies About Sex ” examines what Officer Vincent Roberson and Gail Lawrence told department supervisor Lt. Michael Coppola happened between them — sometimes while the officer was on duty — and how Coppola responded.
Lawrence went to PIP police headquarters near the end of 2010 and reported that Roberson intimidated her into having a sexual affair with him that lasted several months.
After Coppola spoke with Roberson, who was married, Lawrence was arrested and charged with the equivalent of false swearing after trying to recant.
Superior Court Judge Roy McGeady, sitting in the PIP court in Alpine, dismissed the false report charge, saying that police produced no evidence that Lawrence had lied. However, he also found her guilty of two felony traffic violations that will require her to spend a month behind bars, beginning Monday.
McGeady had an extensive report filed by Coppola, as well as a printout of hundreds of texts and phone calls between Lawrence and Roberson.
He also had a videotaped interview of Lawrence by an unlikely participant in the drama — a local police detective.
The article published in Wednesday’s editions of
The Village Voice
questions why Roberson was allowed to leave the department in February 2011 without penalty, either by Palisades Interstate Parkway Police or the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office. It raises other questions, as well.
For the complete story: “ When a cop lies about sex ” The rest of CLIFFVIEW PILOT ‘ s original story, published last Thursday, follows:
The back story
After being arrested following her report to PIP police, Lawrence looked for help elsewhere.
She had just crossed the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey one day in December 2010 when she typed “police” into her GPS, her attorney said. The first department name to come up — under “B” — was Bogota.
So Lawrence headed down Fort Lee Road, virtually passing the Port Authority, Fort Lee and Leonia police departments along the 2.1-mile drive to Bogota.
PIP police had Lawrence involuntarily committed to Bergen Regional Medical Center and other facilities no fewer than six times, Fried told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .
But that didn’t make her account in this case any less credible, a law enforcement source with direct knowledge of the investigation told the PILOT .
For one thing, Lawrence showed the Bogota detective more than 600 texts and phone-call records involving Roberson, 46, of Montclair, sources with direct knowledge of the case told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . These produced a printout nearly three inches thick, a law enforcement source said.
The messages weren’t directly threatening, all agreed. However, the exchanges include Roberson telling Lawrence he knew where she lived and that she had a daughter, among other things, sources interviewed for this article said. He also gave her specific instructions on where to meet him and what to do, they told CLIFFVIEW PILOT .
This was confirmed by Lawrence’s attorney, Israel Fried, a former chief for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office and an Israeli Army volunteer who is a founding partner of the Brooklyn-based Fried and Rokosz law firm.
The case was handed over to Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli’s Office, in accordance with New Jersey State Attorney General guidelines. The materials included an hour-long interview with Lawrence, conducted by Bogota Detective Capt. James Sepp, CLIFFVIEW PILOT has learned.
Roberson, who was a PIP officer for nine years, now works as a security guard at the A&P in Montvale, according to his LinkedIn profile. It says he also was a security guard at Montclair State from 1996 to 2002.
CLIFFVIEW PILOT left a message for him on Thursday, then reached him by cellphone this afternoon.
“Don’t ever call me again. Goodbye,” Roberson said, before hanging up.
How it started
Fried, speaking on behalf of Lawrence, said his client had gone to the PIP administration building in Alpine on an unrelated matter when she ran into Roberson.
“ She was outside … and they began talking. He said he’d read her file, “ the attorney told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “ She thought, ‘What? He read my file?’ They arranged to meet at a Sunoco station on the parkway. From there, the relationship blossomed.
They had on ongoing sexual relationship in her car, in his house, in an apartment in a hotel – sometimes while he was on duty in uniform.
“ It’s not like he put a gun to her head. He had her tied in emotionally, “ Fried told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “ She simply felt like she had no out. “
The relationship lasted from May to October of 2010, interrupted by a break of several weeks off while Roberson was out of the country, Fried said.
Things took a particularly ugly turn when Roberson began making unspecified threats against Lawrence if she ever revealed the relationship — or didn’t agree to continue, the attorney told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . That’s when she went to PIP police headquarters (just off Exit 2 of the Palisades Interstate Parkway), he said.
After filing her initial report, Lawrence contacted Roberson to tell him. He, in turn, convinced her to call the department and seek a retraction, Fried said.
She called them back the next day and made statements to protect him,
the attorney told
She said she wanted the investigation dropped.
However, Lawrence said she was told that once she’d filed the complaint, an investigation immediately began. There was no turning back.
A short time later, Lawrence was brought in for a second formal interview – and was promptly charged with making false statements, Fried said.
She was prepared
Fried conceded that his client, who hails from Jerusalem, isn’t always “all there.” But “the more this went on, the more focused and lucid she became, “ he said.
“ She saved everything, “ he said, including records of hundreds of texts and phone calls.
Given her mental state, Fried told
they should have erred on the side of caution and checked it all out. Instead, they just tried to swat her away.
The one person who didn’t ignore her, Fried said, was Bogota Detective “ Jimmy “ Sepp.
Sepp declined to be interviewed for this article.
However, Fried said: “ This guy is a gem…. If not for him, she’d be sitting in a jail cell somewhere. He was determined to do what was right.
“ I’ve never experienced anything like this in my career. If you follow the evidence, and not her story, there’s a huge cover-up here, ” the attorney told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “ She was railroaded. They thought they could pull one over on her. “
But once Sepp got involved, Fried said, “they couldn’t hide it anymore.”
Roberson at first denied everything, the attorney said. The veteran officer instead pointed to Lawrence’s mental condition and her history of trouble with the department.
After the prosecutor’s office forwarded the results of Sepp’s investigation, a PIP Internal Affairs officer confronted Roberson again, the lawyer said.
You can’t deny what’s in black and white,
We’re talking 600 or 700 phone calls, the bulk of them from him to her.
Presented with the evidence, Roberson recanted, Fried said.
Still, the charges against Lawrence stood.
Three days of hearings — held apart from regular Palisades Interstate Park Commission Court proceedings in Alpine — ended on June 16 with McGeady’s decisions.
Although he tossed the false-swearing charge, the judge let stand two criminal counts: attempting to elude police and obstructing the administration of law. Sentence: 30 days.
Fried said he’s appealing those convictions.
It wasn’t a question of whether she did it,
It was her state of mind when she did.
The circumstances of Roberson’s departure from the PIP Police Department couldn’t be determined.
Coppola, who handles media inquiries for the department, said he intended to speak with Chief John Parr last Friday morning determine “ what can and can’t be released “ from the Internal Affairs investigation into Roberson.
He said he would then provide that information to CLIFFVIEW PILOT .
PIP PD response
The response was received from Coppola at 11:03 a.m. Friday, June 22.
It reads, in part:
“The Chief has reviewed your email request that I received yesterday which contains several questions to which you are seeking a response. First, the Chief wants me to advise you that he has a long standing policy where he will not make any comments in regards to cases which are before any court even after the disposition of those cases in fairness to all parties involved.
“In this particular case, the answers to the information you are seeking is within an internal affairs and personnel files which are not subject to public disclosure. We conducted a thorough internal affairs investigation and probable cause for the charges was found by the court.
“We can say that the Bogota Police Department obtained information that was not disclosed to us initially. They then referred the information to the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office who in turn later referred it back to us….
“Concerning your request for ‘any and all reports’ related to this case, you must understand that it will require an ‘OPRA’ request but any and all documents and information within the internal affairs file will not be released. As a result, few documents can be released….
“For your convenience, I have attached a PDF version of an OPRA request for Government Records. The information we’ll be able to release is so limited that there will be no fees associated with the request and therefore, you may disregard the ‘Payment Information’ section of the form.”
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