Jennifer V. Hughes, Staff Writer February 14, 2001, Wednesday Copyright 2001 North Jersey Media Group Inc. The Record (Bergen County, NJ) February 14, 2001, Wednesday
(PATERSON, N.J.) -- More than a year after a jury failed to reach a complete verdict in the case of a West Milford police sergeant charged with stalking women while on duty, the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office agreed Tuesday to enter him into a special probation program.
Gerrit Kuhnen, 63, was allowed into the Pretrial Intervention program without having to plead guilty to any of the stalking or official misconduct charges against him, authorities said. Most PTI candidates are required to admit some guilt. Unlike most defendants, Kuhnen also was not required to appear in court to receive the deal.
As with all defendants allowed into PTI, Kuhnen's record will be wiped clean once he has completed the program. Had he been convicted at trial, Kuhnen faced the possibility of multiple 10-year prison terms.
"He's retired, he's got his pension, all he wants to do is to get this behind him," lawyer Joseph Afflitto said.
After a five-week trial in winter 1999, a Passaic County jury delivered a mixed verdict after seven days of deliberations. They acquitted Kuhnen on two out of four stalking charges, and one official misconduct count out of seven, but failed to reach a verdict on the other offenses.
Kuhnen, a 24-year police veteran who retired in 1995, was accused of using his police powers to stalk women from 1989 to 1994. Seven women testified that Kuhnen frequently showed up at their homes and workplaces and followed them late at night in his patrol car.
Some said he would pull them over with his patrol car or shine a spotlight into their homes. Others said he bragged about learning their addresses or birthdays by using the police computer.
Kuhnen testified that he considered the women friends, said they were either mistaken or lying, and that none of them ever complained about his behavior. He denied using the computer to retrieve personal information, and said he may have done such things as shine 1 the patrol car spotlight on their homes but it was to reassure them he was protecting the streets.
Steven Brizek, county senior assistant prosecutor, said his office wanted to pursue another trial on the remaining stalking count and six misconduct charges but implied that the alleged victims in the case did not want to continue.
"When we evaluate how to proceed, we have to make sure the alleged victims' concerns, emotions, and sensibilities are given paramount significance," he said.
"We were prepared to retry this case, but when we set out to do so, we were faced with a situation that required this result," he said. "We are not trying it because we cannot try it."
None of the alleged victims could be reached for comment.
Afflitto said his client had been offered similar deals prior to his trial but turned them down. This time, the lawyer said his client didn't want to take any more risks.
"The alternative is to undergo another five-week trial, with second-degree prison term exposure, and having to spend the kind of money he spent to defend the first case," said Afflitto, who noted that Kuhnen's wife is seriously ill.
"It was obvious to him that at least some people were unwilling to acquit on all the charges," said Afflitto.
Two of the alleged victims have filed civil suits against Kuhnen and the Police Department, claiming that police officials knew about Kuhnen's actions but did nothing to stop him.