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TMCNet:  Vineland court officials seeking change of venue for student's harassment claim against city councilman

[February 25, 2013]

Vineland court officials seeking change of venue for student's harassment claim against city councilman

VINELAND, Feb 25, 2013 (The Press of Atlantic City - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- A harassment charge filed against City Councilman John Procopio by the mother of one of his Vineland High School homeroom students will be moved to another municipal court venue.

Maribel Cruz alleges in a complaint filed with Vineland Municipal Court officials on Wednesday that Procopio yelled, "Let's do this, punk," at her son on Feb. 19.

The incident occurred while 16-year-old Jeremiah Cruz was calling his mother on his cell phone during a power failure at the Vineland High School campus on Chestnut Avenue.

District officials said they had waived a ban on using cell phones in classrooms because of the extraordinary nature of the event. Procopio said he asked Jeremiah Cruz not to use his cell phone for security matters.

However, Maribel Cruz, who lives in the 100 block of South East Avenue, further charges in the complaint that Procopio kicked her son out of homeroom. The alleged incidents were done "in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm," reads the complaint.

Procopio is scheduled to appear in Vineland Municipal Court on March 13.

However, city Municipal Court Director Donna Buckman said she is contacting other municipal courts where the case could be heard. She said they could have a new location for Procopio's court case by today.

The school district placed Procopio on paid administrative leave Wednesday.

District officials also held a fact-finding hearing Friday regarding the incident. They said they did not know when they would reach a final decision regarding the incident.

Procopio was elected to a four-year term on City Council in December.

City Solicitor Richard Tonetta could not be reached for comment regarding whether it would be appropriate for City Council to take any action against Procopio based on the outcome of either the school district's investigation or the eventual municipal court hearing.

Matthew Weng, staff attorney with the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, said it would be "perfectly acceptable" for Procopio to continue with his City Council duties.

Procopio's actions are not related to city government business, and he was not charged with a crime, Weng said.

"They're using the court system to work it out," Weng said of Procopio and the Cruz family.

Contact Thomas Barlas: 609-226-9197 ___ (c)2013 The Press of Atlantic City (Pleasantville, N.J.) Visit The Press of Atlantic City (Pleasantville, N.J.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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