Nearly two years after he was taken into custody by detectives at the township Board of Education office, suspended from his position as Brick schools superintendent and had his image splashed on the front pages of newspaper across the state, Walter Uszenski is no longer facing criminal charges.
Superior Court Judge Patricia Roe dismissed an indictment against Uszenski just weeks after his attorney, Joseph J. Benedict, said prosecutors left out facts in their grand jury presentation that could have exonerated his client. The indictment against Uszenski’s daughter, Jackqueline Halsey, was also dismissed. Two charges related to former Director of Special Services Andrew Morgan’s alleged omission of the fact that he had previously faced criminal charges in a drug case were allowed to stand. Morgan, however, had been granted a waiver in 1997 allowing him to work in New Jersey schools.
Uszenski had been charged with allowing his grandson to attend an out-of-district preschool prosecutors claimed he was not entitled to attend, but Benedict said during a hearing last month that the child had already attended the school in the past, and that it was among a number of schools recommended for him by the state before his grandfather was ever hired in Brick. The child was returned to the out-of-district school, Ocean Early Childhood Center, after he experienced problems adjusting to a self-contained program within the district, the attorney said. Those facts were never presented in full to the two grand juries that considered the indictment, the defense claimed.
On Tuesday, Roe delivered a written opinion on the matter, throwing out the superseding indictment in the case. She had 60 days to rule on the defense’s motion following the Jan. 31 hearing on the matter.
The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, which filed the charges and pursued the case, was reviewing the ruling Tuesday morning and “assessing our options,” spokesman Al Della Fave said.
“A determination will be made whether to appeal or represent the case to the Grand Jury,” said Della Fave. “It is the firm belief of OCPO that there has been a violation of the law and we will aggressively move forward in our efforts to continue prosecution.”
“I’ve felt all along that, at trial, this case was immensely defensible,” Benedict told Shorebeat. “But I’m heartened by the fact that we don’t even have to go that far.”
Since being presented to the grand jury, Benedict said, even more exculpatory evidence has emerged, including reports from a therapist acknowledging that Uszenski’s grandson was making progress in the out-of-district preschool program, and reports from Board of Education members signaling the need for a change in leadership in the district’s special education department that had no connection with Uszenski nor his grandson.
After last month’s hearing, Benedict told Shorebeat the prosecutor’s office was contact by the Brick mayor’s office, who apparently forwarded a complaint from a disgruntled bus driver who was driving the superintendent’s grandchild to the special school. Benedict said prosecutor’s made assumptions in the case before speaking to Uszenski or his daughter, who was also charged.
“They had this theory of what happened, but as I said to the judge, they came up with this theory before ever talking to anybody,” Benedict said after the hearing. “If they would have simply talked to the mother, they would have understood what happened here.”
It is unclear whether Uszenski will return to his position as schools superintendent in Brick. In a similar case in Lacey Township two years ago, a superintendent returned to her position after an indictment was dismissed.
This is a breaking story. Shorebeat has requested the full text of Roe’s decision and will update this story as new facts become available.