West Milford man, falsely accused, seeks justice
BY DONNA ROLANDO
July 23, 2012
As Passaic County’s justice system does a sharp turn-around, a West Milford mom – who allegedly falsely accused her 9-year-old son’s father of assault – is now the one fighting to maintain her innocence.
Jeanette Crowley, a 48-year-old waitress from West Milford, appeared before Superior Court Judge Marilyn Clark on Monday to enter a not-guilty plea and make arrangements for bail. Her co-defendant, John De Witt of Wanaque, was rescheduled for this coming Monday before Judge Clark when no one arranged to deliver him to the Paterson courthouse from jail.
Although Crowley was initially the accuser, according to authorities, alleging that her son’s father committed an act of domestic violence, she now stands in court as the accused. Passaic County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Gina Pfund explained that “significant evidence” led to the dismissal of aggravated assault, stalking, and weapons charges against 50-year-old Michael Stitt of West Milford in February.
The justice system did a complete reversal in May with an indictment against Crowley and De Witt on charges of perjury, false swearing, false report, and tampering with evidence, according to the indictment. The indictment states that on or about Sept. 12, 2011, Crowley and De Witt made a false report about Stitt and tampered with evidence.
Yet as Crowley maintains her innocence, her attorney, Richard Baldi, indicated after Monday’s proceeding that the case against his client is not open and shut.
“She’s presumed to be innocent. She maintains her innocence, and I’m in the process of getting proof in that endeavor,” he said. Baldi declined to comment at this time on what that evidence might be.
De Witt is represented by Public Defender John Schadegg, who did not address the judge on the case this past Monday.
It was noted in court that Crowley and Stitt have fought for years over custody and visitation arrangements for their son. Stitt had custody at the time he was falsely charged and has custody today, though Crowley is trying to meet the Family Court’s stipulations for visits.
In the courthouse, during a dispute over bail and visitation rights for Crowley, Chief Assistant Prosecutor Pfund described how traumatic it was for the 9-year-old boy to watch his father “being taken by gunpoint” and arrested after the two had just returned home from a Boy Scout event. Pfund sought to bar Crowley from contact with both her son and her son’s father on the grounds that previous unfounded allegations have involved the son.
Yet Baldi objected, “I’m sure authorities arrested him (Stitt) in a proper manner. I don’t believe they would have done it in a way as to endanger a child.”
He fought to get the bail reduced from prosecution’s request of $25,000 (no 10-percent option) and for the door to visitation with the 9-year-old to remain open if Crowley meets Family Court requirements.
“I haven’t seen my son for a year,” said Crowley, who is undergoing therapy in the hopes of being able to visit.
Judge Clark decided to leave it up to Family Court whether Crowley should have any kind of visitation with her son down the road.
She also set bail at $5,000 (no 10-percent option) and gave Crowley a deadline to make payment or face incarceration.
For Stitt, who appeared in the courthouse on Monday, the consequences of false charges against him were devastating.
He lost two months of contact with his son, who stayed with his grandmother in Stitt’s West Milford home (where he had been living) during his dad’s incarceration, said Stitt’s attorney Bill Johnson. When Stitt was released from jail, Johnson said, he still was denied contact with his son and therefore had to make other living arrangements for himself. Just before Christmas 2011, Stitt was allowed to return home.
Then there was media coverage of the allegations that Stitt hit Crowley with a caulking gun at a Wanaque location and also threatened her with what appeared to be a pistol before driving to his Oak Ridge section home.
Authorities recovered a .31-caliber black powder handgun in his vehicle, but the jury found no evidence to move forward on the weapons charge, Pfund confirmed back in February.
Nor did the jury find evidence supporting the other claims, she said.
Furthermore, Stitt told Suburban Trends he sustained a financial loss from being falsely charged of at least $60,000, including about $20,000 in fees to a bail bondsman for his release from prison as well as the cost of hiring a lawyer to represent him.
None of these expenses have been reimbursed even though Stitt has been cleared of all charges.
His work truck was also seized by local law enforcement and was only restored by a court order that took effect on Nov. 18, 2011, Johnson said.
“I’m a victim of a horrible thing,” Stitt said after court on Monday. He added that although he and Crowley had issues regarding the custody of their son, being handcuffed and jailed on a phony assault charge “was very much a surprise” to him.
As Stitt’s lawyer, Johnson said he was pleased an indictment had been rendered against Crowley and De Witt because “those charges (against Stitt) had a substantial impact. He was incarcerated in the Passaic County Jail for a considerable length of time (a few weeks). He was financially unable to work while there.”
Like Stitt, Johnson looks for justice.
“When people make false allegations, especially ones as serious as these, it jeopardizes the proper functioning of the justice system. People who do that have to be held accountable.”
Johnson previously said that “false reporting with relation to domestic violence is a huge problem.”
While De Witt is scheduled to appear before Judge Clark this coming Monday, Crowley’s case has been continued until Aug. 27, also before Judge Clark.