Make this page my home page
  1. Drag the home icon in this panel and drop it onto the "house icon" in the tool bar for the browser

  2. Select "Yes" from the popup window and you're done!

Home > News > 

Distraught officer arrested outside N.J. school


April 04, 2007
Print Comment RSS

Distraught officer arrested outside N.J. school

"That was an extremely dangerous kind of motor vehicle stop."

By Claire Heininger and Ralph R. Ortega
The Star-Ledger

SOMERVILLE, N.J. — An armed, suicidal police officer was arrested yesterday after he was tracked in the vicinity of his former high school in Somerset County, sending the school into lockdown mode for nearly an hour, authorities said.

No one was hurt when police stopped Clinton Township Officer Jason Peltack, 27, after a friend of the officer's reported Peltack had a gun and was driving in Somerset County, authorities said.

The friend's worried 911 calls triggered a countywide alert to find the officer, who appeared to be heading in the direction of his alma mater, Immaculata High School in Somerville, which Peltack's younger brother attends, authorities said.

Peltack had left alarming messages with several family members that morning, but had not contacted his brother, and may have been seeking him out, police said.

"He was despondent and suicidal," said Detective Sgt. Daniel Hurley, a spokesman for the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office. "Due to the potential danger, and just the uncertainty of the whole situation, a decision was made by Somerset County (law enforcement) to lock down the school."

Peltack was apprehended within three miles of the Catholic high school, where students and faculty spent 45 uncertain minutes in darkened classrooms, awaiting word.

The lockdown began at 10:45 a.m. and Peltack was pulled over about 11:20 a.m. by a Raritan Borough police officer on Woodmere Street, the same street where the K-4 John F. Kennedy School is located, Somerset County Prosecutor Wayne J. Forrest said.

A 12-gauge shotgun was found in the cab of Peltack's silver pickup truck. The officer was charged with a fourth-degree firearms offense after authorities determined he unlawfully obtained the weapon from his father's house in Bridgewater, police said.

"He surrendered without any kind of issue," Hurley said. "That was an extremely dangerous kind of motor vehicle stop."

Wearing slacks and a dress shirt - he had called in sick to work that morning - the officer was taken to Somerset Medical Center for a psychological evaluation, and bail was set at $5,000 with a 10 percent option, authorities said.

The arrest unsettled parents and faculty of the 817-student school and came as a jolt to Peltack's family and friends, who said the clean-cut young officer gave no indication he was about to snap.

"He's a wonderful boy. He goes to church and everything. He had no problems," said Dorothy Peltack of Somerville, Jason's grandmother. "This is crazy."

Born and raised in Bridgewater, the officer graduated from Immaculata in 1998, completed police academy training and began his law enforcement career with the Somerset County Sheriff's Department. After three years as a sheriff's officer, Peltack in 2004 joined the Clinton Township Police Department, where he made $44,420 last year, according to public records.

"I never would've guessed it by the way he treated us," said Maggie Marcucci, the owner of a Clinton Township day care center where Peltack helped solve a robbery in 2004, then volunteered to perform additional patrols.

"He was calm, professional, caring," Marcucci said. "It's funny, because I really thought, `Oh, we're safe if he's roaming around.'"

The arrest unsettled parents and faculty of the 817-student school and came as a jolt to Peltack's family and friends, who said the clean-cut young officer gave no indication he was about to snap.

"He's a wonderful boy. He goes to church and everything. He had no problems," said Dorothy Peltack of Somerville, Jason's grandmother. "This is crazy."

Born and raised in Bridgewater, the officer graduated from Immaculata in 1998, completed police academy training and began his law enforcement career with the Somerset County Sheriff's Department. After three years as a sheriff's officer, Peltack in 2004 joined the Clinton Township Police Department, where he made $44,420 last year, according to public records.

"I never would've guessed it by the way he treated us," said Maggie Marcucci, the owner of a Clinton Township day care center where Peltack helped solve a robbery in 2004, then volunteered to perform additional patrols.

"He was calm, professional, caring," Marcucci said. "It's funny, because I really thought, `Oh, we're safe if he's roaming around.'"

Clinton Township Police Director Robert Manney stressed that Peltack was not threatening to hurt anyone but himself.

"There was never any indication that he was going to do anything to anyone (at the school) or that he was a threat to the public," Manney said, but added he does not question the lockdown decision.

Peltack had been grappling with "personal issues" in "his domestic situation at home," Manney said, declining to elaborate. The officer - who was "very distraught, very apologetic" when visited by colleagues at Raritan police headquarters - was placed on paid administrative leave following the incident, Manney said.

Peltack had previously been reassigned to desk duty at police headquarters, Manney said, and the department was awaiting approval from the Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office to return him to street patrols. Manney could not say last night why Peltack was on desk duty.

Authorities tracked Peltack to Raritan Borough yesterday morning by "pinging" his cell phone, which showed him "going in the general direction of the school," Hurley said.

Law enforcement officials can use the "pings" - sent continuously by switched-on phones to nearby cell phone towers - to track a person's location.

At the school, officials declared a Level One lockdown, posting Somerville police officers along the perimeter and securing students and teachers in classrooms with the lights turned off. A Level One lockdown means the threat came from outside the school.

"We didn't know what was going on. We thought it was a drill," said Taylor Jackanow, 15, of Raritan. Her mother, Jeanne Jackanow, said she was startled to learn a police officer was involved, but felt confident her daughter was safe.

"The kids were excellent," principal Sister Regina Havens said.

Peltack has a younger brother currently enrolled at Immaculata, and a younger sister who graduated from there, his grandmother said. Several extended family members are also police officers, Dorothy Peltack said, including Manville Police Chief Mark Peltack.

"I have no idea what the problem is," Chief Peltack said yesterday, adding when he last spoke with his cousin four or five months ago, "he seemed fine."

Marcucci, the day care owner, echoed the chief's surprise.

"I'm just so shocked," she said. "You never know, right, what twists somebody."

Copyright 2007 Newark Morning Ledger Co.
All Rights Reserved

Full story: Distraught officer arrested outside N.J. school





PoliceOne Offers

Breaking Police News

P1 on Facebook

Get the #1 Police eNewsletter

Police Newsletter Sign up for our FREE email roundup of the top news, tips, columns, videos and more, sent 3 times weekly
See Sample

Connect with PoliceOne

Mobile Apps Facebook Twitter Google

PoliceOne Exclusives

Featured Videos