A judge has upheld the decision to fire a Paulsboro police officer accused of repeatedly having sex with a trainee while on duty.
Elijah Camacho sued the town and its police chief in Superior Court last year, alleging that he was wrongfully terminated from the Gloucester County department.
Camacho, 26, was accused of having sex with the female Special Law Enforcement Officer on multiple occasions while they were both on duty and in instances when he was working and she was not.
Camacho was supposed to be training her and demonstrating acceptable conduct, the borough stated in its justifications for firing him.
He admitted having sex with the woman on five to 10 occasions while on duty between August and November — or December — 2020, according to court documents. She resigned soon after the incidents came to light. He was fired in August.
Open public records advocate John Paff first reported on the ruling upholding the termination.
Camacho’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment on the decision.
Camacho and the trainee met at locations including Loudenslager Elementary School grounds in Paulsboro and outside of the borough in neighboring Gibbstown.
Camacho argued that sex was consensual and that his termination was unwarranted for what he termed an “error in judgment.”
He was also accused of meeting another woman, a Camden County Metro Police officer, while he was on duty and she was not, though Camacho denied having sex with her while he was working.
Camacho testified that his on-the-job sex did not interfere with his work duties, saying in a hearing over his termination that “even though he might have been in the middle of sex with (the SLEO), he would still be able to handle an emergency call,” according to court records.
The relationship with the woman had apparently soured by December 2020.
In an incident from that month, Camacho testified that he had an argument with the officer and dropped her off early at the police station, saying he had to gas up the police car. Instead, he planned to go see the Camden officer. He then went to the Loudenslager school to meet her, all while he was on duty and expected to respond to calls, court documents note.
The SLEO learned about the meeting and was upset, Camacho testified. She considered the school a “special place” because of the previous encounters there with Camacho, according to the court records.
The gas ruse came to the attention of police after Camacho allegedly told internal affairs he fueled up the patrol car that evening, when records revealed he got gas that morning. The lie was intended to cover his on-duty meeting with the off-duty Camden officer, the borough concluded.
In challenging his termination, Camacho noted he had received high ratings on job performance since joining the Paulsboro department in 2018. Evaluations described him as “a valued entity” who “followed directions well” and was “a pleasure to work with.” He joined the county SWAT team and was also praised for excellent interactions on the streets with Paulsboro youth, including playing basketball and football with kids, according to details included in court filings.
In his review of the case, Superior Court Judge Samuel J. Ragonese noted that Camacho had 10 to 13 infractions while employed with Camden Metro Police Department before coming to Paulsboro, though they were not detailed in the ruling.
Camacho also admitted to several prior infractions while with the Paulsboro department, according to court documents, including an incident on his shift “regarding an attempted hanging in a cell block,” losing a police department headquarters key fob, having his gun taken as a result of a domestic violence charge, arriving 40 minutes late for a shift, looking at social media instead of doing his work and “using a massage tool.”
The officer also admitted having so many violations that he “trigged the early warning system within the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office,” according to details included with the ruling. The early intervention system identifies officers exhibiting behavior that may require closer attention.
After the sex revelations came to light, Camacho was served with disciplinary charges alleging multiple violations of department policies and its code of ethics, and a hearing was held in April 2021.
The hearing officer recommended the officer’s termination in a June opinion and the borough acted on that recommendation in August 2021. After Camacho sued, Ragonese presided over the appeal of the termination and issued his ruling in April of this year.
Ragonese wrote that Camacho’s repeated conduct with the SLEO and “his clandestine meetings” with (the Camden officer) meant the termination was justified.
“The residents of Paulsboro were given interrupted service by officer Camacho during his brief tenure,” Ragonese wrote. “Camacho failed to appreciate his responsibility of properly teaching (the SLEO) police work and the professional degree of integrity and dependability a police officer must exhibit to the community.”
The judge also opined on what the future would likely hold if Camacho remained with the Paulsboro department.
“It is hard to imagine that the next twenty or more years of police service would be productive to the citizens of Paulsboro,” Ragonese wrote. “Rather, the conduct displayed by Camacho suggests it likely that sexual harassment claims would be brought against Paulsboro for his conduct, and the consequent expense and damage to the reputation of the Department are worthy of consideration.”