Discipline recommended for officers after cop fatally shot ex-wife in front of police: prosecutor

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ASBURY PARK, N.J. — Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni is recommending disciplinary action for two Asbury Park police officers a year after off-duty Neptune Police Sgt. Philip Seidle repeatedly shot and killed his ex-wife with cops present.

Gramiccioni also announced the implementation of an early alert system to flag troubled police officers before a tragedy.

Philip Seidle, 52, chased Tamara Seidle by car until she crashed, then he got out and shot her. Tamara Seidle, 51, likely died within minutes, but paramedics couldn’t get to her until 16 minutes after the first shots were fired.

On June 16, 2015, an Asbury Park police officer was outside his cruiser speaking to two people about a minor crash they had just been in, when the Seidles' cars came screeching around the corner and nearly hit them.

Within three seconds of the crash, Philip Seidle began shooting. He fired at point blank range through Tamara’s driver side window, hitting her eight times. The police officer who witnessed the shooting screamed into his radio that shots were fired told him his location at Ridge and Sewall streets.

The officer then unholstered his weapon and ordered Seidle to drop the gun, before retreating back to his car and calling over the radio that Seidle had a gun to his head. After a second officer arrives, the first responding officer sees Philip Seidle had a child in his car. It’s the couple’s youngest daughter. She was 7 years old at the time, and can be seen on dash cam video running toward police.

Exactly 43 seconds later, a ranking officer arrives, followed by two more officers six seconds later. With five officers now at the scene, Sgt. Seidle fires four more shots through the front windshield of his ex-wife’s car. They draw their guns and as more police arrive and a full scale standoff ensues. Seidle kept his gun to his temple for another 45 minutes, and would only agree to surrender peacefully if police showed him a photo of the couple's nine children.

The Prosecutor’s Office investigated whether officers gave Seidle special treatment and whether they should have used lethal force.

“We concluded that it was reasonable for these first five responding officers not to use deadly force against Philip Seidle,” Acting Prosecutor Grammiccioni said.

“The factual scenario that defined this incident is not found in textbooks or police academy training standards. It simply could not have been anticipated. While the law enforcement response to this matter had it’s flaws in some regard, none of them caused the death of Tamara Seidle.”

The officer who witnessed the initial gunfire did not call over the radio this piece of critical information — that Philip Seidle had fired into a car, prior to putting the gun to his head. Therefore, approaching officers saw a suicidal person. Officers are trained to de-escalate suicidal situations, and New Jersey law enforcement policy prohibits officers from using lethal force when approaching someone who is suicidal. Grammiccioni said the fourth and fifth officers to approach heard gunshots, but their view was obstructed and the risk of crossfire was too great.

“Because the crime unfolded in a densely populated neighborhood with many bystanders, these officers discharge of their firearms would have created that foreseeable likelihood that civilians could be injured or killed,” Grammiccioni added.

The third officer who arrived was a ranking police officer. He took the couple’s daughter and placed her in his cruiser, before leaving the scene approximately two minutes after the second spurt of gunfire to take the child back to headquarters.

Grammiccioni said the ranking officer did not take control at the scene and in fact left the scene twice. He is recommending that the first officer at the scene and the ranking officer face disciplinary action from the Asbury Park Police Department.

"Under state law, we don’t have the ability to impose discipline on an individual who is not our employee,” Grammiccioni explained, "While this office maintains oversight over all police departments, only the employing police agencies can handles this step.”

Grammiccioni has also ordered all police departments in Monmouth County to report all incidents of domestic violence involving police officers to his office. Prior, only charges or restraining orders would raise a red flag at the county level. Grammiccioni detailed every call to police that had documented their history of domestic violence. Stretching back to March of 1994, there had been 21 calls made from either spouse. Two-thirds were domestic in nature or over custody disputes. Neither of the Seidles had ever pressed charges against one another or filed a restraining order, but Tamara Seidle did tell police in February 2012 that she had been physically abused in the past.

Just two days after she was murdered, friends of Tamara Seidle spoke to PIX11 News exclusively about her abuse. They said that Tamara Seidle had lived for years with the horror of physical and verbal abuse. They said she told them she was kicked in the stomach while pregnant, and that Philip Seidle had once put a gun to her head.

“I could not believe how many times she reached out and asked for help and was told: ‘you know you don’t want to do this, he’s an esteemed member of the police department’,” said Damarus Adamo.

On Thursday, the Acting Prosecutor said that Tamara Seidle declined to file charges or get a restraining order when she reported her abuse for the first time on Feb. 2, 2012.

“Responding officers inquired why she had never reported it before, and Tamara indicated that she did not want to get Philip Seidle into trouble and have problems with his job as a police officer.”

But that day, Tamara Seidle did indicate that she would make an appointment to speak to Sgt. Seidle’s Chief at the Neptune Police Department. This never materialized, according to the Acting Prosecutor.

Seidle was investigated and suspended for 2 days over the incident by the Neptune Police Department. They discovered that Philip Seidle had tried to cancel Tamara Seidle’s 911 call to police that day. Although not required to, the Chief took his gun away and sent him for a fitness for duty exam. Because he was disarmed, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office was notified.

On Feb. 15, 2012, Seidle was found to not be fit for duty. He was ordered into psychotherapy and was unable to access his service weapon for 180 days. When he returned to work, he was able to retrieve his weapon by signing it in and out for each shift.

Over the next three years, an additional three domestic calls were made to police. The Prosecutor’s Office also uncovered an additional call made to Tinton Falls Police by the daughter of Sgt. Seidle’s girlfriend. She reported in January 2012 that he had put his hands around her neck. This report was never forwarded to the Neptune Police Department, where Philip Seidle was under investigation for trying to cancel Tamara Seidle’s 911 call.

The Seidle case highlighted a critical flaw in New Jersey’s domestic violence police procedures. New Jersey Attorney General guidelines require that an officer be disarmed if a criminal complaint or a restraining order is filed. Even though Tamara Seidle reported her abuse, she didn't have a restraining order and never pressed charges. Acting Prosecutor Grammiccioni announced an early warning policy for all police departments in Monmouth County Thursday.

"The new policy will provide both the employing police agency and the Prosecutor’s Office with the opportunity to intervene before an officer places others or themselves in harms way,”Grammiccioni explained.

Police departments in Monmouth County will now be required to report to the Prosecutor’s Office and to the municipality where the officer is employed if any allegations of domestic violence are reported, regardless of whether or not charges or a restraining order were issued.

Police departments must also report to the Prosecutor anytime an officer is sent for a fitness for duty evaluation, disarmed, or receives three citizen complaints in a 6-month span. Plus, all materials forwarded to a physician for an officer’s fitness for duty evaluation must now be listed and kept in the officer’s internal affairs file.

“We hope that these described actions, taken following this comprehensive review, will further enhance police services to the citizens of Monmouth County,” said Grammiccioni, "We also hope it will provided needed changes to existing policies that monitor police officers’ fitness for duty."

Philip Seidle pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter and other charges on March 10, 2016. He’s due to be sentenced on September 8th. The Acting Prosecutor said he plans to recommend the maximum penalty.