Manville Police Chief Thomas Herbst was arrested Wednesday and charged with sexual assault, official misconduct, and a pattern of official misconduct for allegedly groping and sexually assaulting two women.
Herbst “categorically denies” the charges, his attorney James Wronko said.
Herbst, 55, was arrested at his Bridgewater home in the morning. He made his first appearance in Central Judicial Processing court in the afternoon and was released, Wronko said.
Herbst “cooperated fully” with authorities, Wronko said.
The charges were announced by state Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin at a news conference in Trenton.
Herbst is facing two counts of sexual assault, three counts of official misconduct, one count of a pattern of official misconduct and one count of criminal sexual contact.
The charges involve two separate women.
Wronko said Herbst “never” forced or coerced any woman into sex.
Herbst “could not believe” the acts over a decade alleged by one of the women “surface now,” Wronko said.
The investigation into Herbst began after a civilian employee of the police department filed a civil lawsuit in February 2022 against Herbst, who was her supervisor, alleging he groped, sexually assaulted and sexually harassed her from 2008 through 2021.
Herbst, who has worked for the Manville Police Department since 1991, became chief in 2020 and earned $163,312 according to state records, was placed on administrative leave shortly after the lawsuit was filed.
The Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office initiated a criminal investigation after the lawsuit was filed and the Attorney General’s Office took over the investigation in May 2022.
The investigation then revealed a second woman, another civilian employee, alleging Herbst had sexually assaulted her in 2005 or 2006 when he was a sergeant. Court papers say that Herbst went to her new house and while touring it, he allegedly requested a sexual act. The woman eventually performed the sexual act, though she did not want to, court papers say.
In addition, the investigation found that Herbst, then a lieutenant, had allegedly contacted a subordinate officer in the police department in 2016 to solicit sex acts from the officer’s wife in exchange for scheduling preference or promotional consideration. Court papers say that Herbst texted the officer to demand oral sex from his wife in exchange for a promotion.
The investigation also found, according to court papers, that Herbst used his office computer on Nov. 25, 2020, to access pornographic videos.
“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 of the badge than to use one’s power to harm those you are supposed to protect,” Platkin said. “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 members of their own department. The alleged conduct of this defendant hurt his victims in unimaginable ways.”
He added it took “extraordinary courage” for these women to come forward and publicly make accusations against the chief, while facing the possibility that Herbst’s stature might lead the public to doubt their stories and question the pain they endured, in some cases for years.
Wronko said Herbst was aware of the charges from the first woman because of the civil lawsuit but did not know about the charges in connection with the second woman.
Herbst filed a defamation suit against the first woman earlier this year, claiming the statements and allegations she made in her lawsuit and to law enforcement agencies are “demonstrably false.”
His suit alleges that the woman filed her suit with “actual malice” and “she knew that Mr. Herbst did not sexually assault or abuse or harm her and that the allegations were false.”
The lawsuit filed by the first woman alleges Herbst masturbating in front of her at police headquarters, allegedly sexually touching her under her clothes, allegedly forcing her to have sex in the archive room at headquarters, alleges Herbst went to her home to sexually assault her during her lunch hour or after work, and allegedly forcing her on three occasions to have intercourse at a hotel.
Platkin said the woman was forced to pull her blinds closed, lock her doors and put her car in the garage so Herbst could not tell whether she was at home when he drove by, so she could avoid being sexually assaulted in her own home.
Herbst allegedly ordered the woman to begin wearing skirts to work to facilitate the assaults and when she resisted, he accused her of disobeying orders, according to the suit.
The woman initially withheld reporting the abuse for fear of losing her job, but when she filed the lawsuit, she no longer had that fear, the suit said.
Platkin said such an abuse of power cannot and will not be tolerated.
“To the victims we have heard you. We take your allegations seriously and we investigated them thoroughly and today we’re bringing criminal charges against the man who hurt you,” Platkin said.
If convicted of the second-degree crimes, Herbst faces five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000. If convicted of the official misconduct and pattern of official misconduct charges, he faces a five-year term of parole ineligibility, mandatory loss of his pension, loss of public office and lifetime ban of holding public office.
Suzanne Russell is a breaking news reporter for MyCentralJersey.com covering crime, courts and other mayhem. To get unlimited access, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
Leave a Reply