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Suspended Chief of Manville Police Department allegedly engaged in a years-long pattern of sexually predatory behavior targeting multiple women

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the staff of the Ridgewood blog

Manville NJ, Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin today announced the filing of criminal charges against Manville’s police chief, who allegedly engaged in a years-long pattern of sexually predatory behavior targeting multiple women.

The Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) has filed a criminal complaint against Thomas Herbst, 55, of Bridgewater.

Herbst, who worked for the Manville Police Department since 1991 and was on paid administrative leave as of his arrest this morning, April 12, 2023, is facing two counts of sexual assault, two counts of official misconduct, one count of a pattern of official misconduct, and one count of criminal sexual contact.

“The defendant in this case is accused of using his position of power, authority, and leadership, to force subordinates to engage in sexual acts against their will – I can think of no greater betrayal to the badge than to use one’s power to harm those you are supposed to protect,” said Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin. “Police officers swear an oath to protect the public, but their Chiefs are expected to protect all those in their charge – to keep safe not only the public but also to ensure the safety of the members of their own department.  The alleged conduct of this defendant hurt his victims in unimaginable ways.  We intend to hold the defendant accountable for the harm he did to the victims in this case.  Letting such conduct go unchecked would be a miscarriage of justice for these women, but also for every female officer and public employee who feels unsafe in an environment where predatory sexual misconduct is normalized or condoned.”

“Herbst is charged with abusing his rank and authority to coerce staff members into sex acts in the workplace and in the victims’ homes, and to obtain lewd photos and sex acts from the wives and girlfriends of subordinates in return for promotions and assignments,” said Thomas Eicher, Executive Director of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability. “This conduct, as alleged, is a disgrace. We will not tolerate criminal behavior by someone who swore an oath to protect and serve the people.”

Herbst is accused of sexually inappropriate behavior toward at least three women. According to the investigation, the chief regularly groped, exposed himself to, sexually harassed, and sexually assaulted an employee of the police department who reported directly to him, using coercion and doing so without the victim’s permission, between 2008 and 2021. The attacks often happened while he and the victim were on duty, and many of the alleged attacks took place in various locations at police headquarters.

In one of the earlier attacks, the defendant called the victim into his office and told her he would allow her to leave work early. He then stood next to the chair in which she was sitting in a way that prevented her from getting out. He then removed his penis from his pants, masturbated, and ejaculated into her hair and onto her clothing. He told her he was sorry and directed her to go home.

According to the charging document unsealed today, acts like the initial attack occurred repeatedly, but eventually escalated to acts of assault by penetration.

Investigators say the defendant at one point ordered the one victim to begin wearing skirts to work to facilitate and escalate the assaults. On occasion, he would arrange to meet her at a motel to assault her, and at one point when she resisted, he accused her of disobeying orders.

The chief also allegedly attacked the victim in her own home, entering through the backdoor of her home uninvited and sexually assaulting the victim. Investigators say that, in an attempt to avoid those encounters, the victim began closing her blinds, locking her doors, and parking in her garage so that when the defendant drove by, he would not know she was home.

According to the investigation, Herbst also solicited sexual favors from the wife of one of his subordinate officers in order for that officer to receive favorable employment decisions and opportunities. In one instance, the defendant texted his subordinate demanding oral sex from the employee’s wife in exchange for a promotion. That conduct violated Borough of Manville sexual harassment policies prohibiting a borough employee from requesting sexual favors when submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for an employment decision affecting a municipal employee.

Evidence additionally revealed the defendant went to the newly purchased home of another victim, who had previously been his subordinate, and while touring the house, sexually assaulted her.

The charges against the defendant are merely accusations and he is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The case is being prosecuted by Deputy Attorneys General Samantha Thoma, Andrew Wellbrock and Sherrod Smith, under the supervision of Corruption Bureau Deputy Chiefs Heather Hausleben and Jeff Manis, Bureau Chief Peter Lee, OPIA Deputy Director Anthony Picione and OPIA Executive Director Thomas Eicher.

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