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Call Involving Man Covered In His Own Feces Earns Wood-Ridge Officers Statewide Recognition

Wood-Ridge Officer Mike Mueller (bottom right), Sgt. Jeff Geisler (top right), Officer Michael Donato (bottom left) and Sgt. Joseph Rutigliano.
Wood-Ridge Officer Mike Mueller (bottom right), Sgt. Jeff Geisler (top right), Officer Michael Donato (bottom left) and Sgt. Joseph Rutigliano. Photo Credit: Daily Voice photos/Paul Sarno Facebook (bottom left Donato headshot)

The Wood-Ridge officers who responded to a call involving unwanted party the night of Nov. 19, 2020 had every right to use force.

The 41-year-old subject had just smeared his own feces on his ex-girlfriend's home, then began yelling that he was COVID positive, police said.

He was uncooperative. Irrational. To put it simply, he was out of his mind, officers said.

But the five officers and one dispatcher handled the situation calmly, with patience and compassion. And within 45 minutes, had convinced the man to climb into the ambulance on his own for medical evaluation. 

The Wood-Ridge responders' professionalism that evening earned them the "Shield Award" for "Policemen of the Year," from the New Jersey State Council Knights of Columbus. 

Sgt. Joseph Rutigliano, Jr., Sgt. Jeffrey Geisler, Det. Sgt. Matthew Mueller, Officer Michael Mueller, Officer Donato and dispatcher Robert Cribben received their awards during the mayor and council meeting on Wednesday, July 21.

Wood-Ridge officials with Sgts. Geisler and Rutigliano, Robert Cribben, Chief John Korin and NJ KOC's Russ Petrocelli.

Cecilia Levine

"When a police officer responds to a call, they don't know what's going to happen when they get out of their car," said Knights of Columbus State Membership Director Russell Petrocelli.

"It may come in one way and go completely wrong. That's what happened that night... and it turned into a truly horrific event. 

"They had every right to utilize force," he continued. "These guys' use of verbal skills to deescalate the situation was paramount."

The call came in around 9 p.m. on Nov. 19, 2020. It was a woman, saying her ex-boyfriend had shown up to her apartment unexpectedly, and she feared for her safety.

The man was screaming at her, banging on the door and acting in an unstable manner, Wood-Ridge Det. Joe Biamonte said.

Donato and Rutigliano were the first on the scene. They were met by the agitated man, who was attempting to gather his belongings in an adjacent storage closet outside fo the caller's apartment, authorities said.

The man told officers he was "the all-natural servant to Allah" and that he was on the scene to see to his queen. 

That's when Det. Mueller, Sgt. Geisler and officer Mueller arrived at the scene.

As Rutigliano spoke with the man, he noticed what appeared to be human feces smeared on the caller's door, surveillance cameras, address placard and front porch.

When asked if he defedcated and wiped his feces on the area, the man said: "I'm a human, I s**t in a toilet," according to police.

Rutigliano warned all officers at the scene as the smell began to overtake the area.

The man was led away from the area with some of his belongings so that police could safely make contact with the caller.

But just prior to leaving the area, the man licked his feces off the door and walked away, police said.

"Due to prior interactions with this male individual and becoming familiar with his behavior, it was determined that he was a danger to himself and others," Biamonte said. 

Officers on the scene radioed Cribben for an ambulance.

"Cribben was also responsible for keeping the caller on the line during the entire interaction to keep her calm and disseminate information to the officers on the scene as it became available," police said.

As the officers led the male away from the apartment and attempted to de-escalate the volatile situation, he became more and more irrational and unstable. 

He began yelling at officers, claiming he was COVID positive and to stay away. 

"So now, the officers were faced with an emotionally disturbed person who was covered head to toe in his own feces and now possible COVID-19 positive," authorities said.

Geisler explained that the next course of action would be developing a rapport with the man, and gain their trust.

"We each tried talking to him to see who he would respond best with," he said. "In this instance, it was Matt Mueller. By the end of the night, the first person he wanted to hug was Matt."

And so, Mueller began creating a rapport with the man.

"The first thing you do in these types of situations is find something to talk about -- it could be anything," Mueller told Daily Voice.

 "Just something to establish some type of relationship to get him to trust you, calm down and do what you need so you don't have to resort to force."

Mueller and the agitated man got to chatting.

"At first, he was off the wall. Crazy," Mueller said. "I thought we were going to fight him trying to get on his level.

"We were probably there for a good 45 minutes, just trying to gain his confidence," he said. "We spoke like we were best friends."

But it worked.

The individual eventually relaxed and agreed to be transported to New Bridge Medical Center for evaluation, all because of the officers' calm demeanor and professionalism.

The next day, Mueller went to transfer the man to the sheriff's department from the hospital.

"He was happy to see me, and that was a huge victory -- seeing he was happy," Mueller said.

Chief John Korin commended his officers on a job well done, added that it goes unsaid too often when it comes to the professionalism, training and education of the Wood-Ridge Police Department.

"Law enforcement in New Jersey is second to none as it pertains to the consistent training and education that is mandated to maintain a high level of public service," the chief said. 

"De-escalation seems to be the popular word we hear today when it comes to recent statements about law enforcement in general. The truth of the matter is that most police officers strive to achieve this on every call for service they are detailed to.

"The Wood-Ridge Police Department is a perfect example of the specific training and education they receive to handle situations like the one we just presented."

"These officers every day come to work for a common cause," Petrocelli concluded, "and that's to keep us safe."

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