SPARTA — The Hopatcong police officer who slapped a bunny-suited, airhorn-toting prankster last fall cut a deal Monday in which he pleaded guilty to harassment and was allowed to keep his job.
Officer Nicholas Maresca Jr. was fined $500 during a 10-minute appearance during Municipal Court Judge John E. Mulhern.
The same fine was meted out April 20 to Kevin Hemmerich, 29, who admitted to disorderly conduct for his role in a bizarre confrontation at police headquarters Nov. 17 that was caught on video.
Before accepting the plea, Mulhern briefly addressed Maresca.
“Did you at that time and in that place subject another to ‘offensive touching,'” Mulhern said, referring to the phrasing in the harassment statute.
“Yes, your honor,” Maresca replied.
As part of the agreement, Sussex County First Assistant Prosecutor Gregory Mueller dropped a simple assault charge and requested a waiver — granted by the judge — from the state law mandating job forfeiture for a public employee convicted of a work-related, petty disorderly persons offense.
Maresca, 45, has been a police officer for 20 years and receives a $103,609 salary, according to public records.
Afterward, Mueller said he was satisfied with the outcome.
“It is no small thing for a police officer to admit to a criminal offense in such a public way, which is what he did,” Mueller told NJ Advance Media.
Maresca mingled with about two dozen police supporters after exiting the courtroom but declined comment to reporters.
His attorney, Anthony Iacullo, said, “This resolution provides prompt closure and finality which is something Officer Maresca feels is necessary for those who matter most to him.”
A trial had been scheduled for July 6.
Hemmerich was in court Monday, sitting apart from the police officers gathered to support Maresca.
Mueller told the judge that Hemmerich, who had been slated to testify against Maresca, was “in agreement” with the officer’s guilty plea.
Nearly six months had passed since Hemmerich, turning himself in on an outstanding warrant, showed up at police headquarters wearing a bunny suit and blaring an air horn.
His brother was videotaping nearby and captured the moment when Maresca, entering the lobby, slapped Hemmerich in the face with an open hand and took him into custody.
The encounter drew widespread attention upon being uploaded to YouTube and Facebook.
Maresca was charged two weeks later with simple assault and placed on administrative duty.
Mueller added a second, lesser charge of harassment, which required only a finding of offensive touching, on March 17, one day after the first of Maresca’s two court appearances leading up to his plea.
Following Monday’s 6 p.m. hearing, Mueller said that while Hemmerich was not seriously injured, that not prosecuting Maresca — who remains subject to possible administrative discipline — would have sent the wrong message.
“The public would lose faith and lose trust that the laws are applied equally and fairly,” Mueller said.
“The police and the citizenry owe each other mutual and reciprocal respect, Mueller said, adding, “Kevin Hemmerich and Officer Maresca were wrong that night.”
Iacullo said Maresca appreciates the support he received.
“He thanks all those who have supported him throughout this process as their actions have touched him and his family greatly,” Iacullo said.