In a scenario reminiscent of The Onion's satirical articles, North Bergen, NJ resident Randall Goya was fined $50 by Judge Joseph Romano in the North Bergen Municipal Court on February 22, 2010, for sweeping his living room floor. Mr. Goya also barely managed to elude a sentence of 5 days in jail.
On December 7, 2009, Mr. Goya was sweeping his living room at approximately 10:15 PM. Downstairs neighbor (and loose cannon) John Cabrero banged on his ceiling and Mr. Goya's door. When Mr. Goya told him, "Chill out, I'm just sweeping my floor," Corrections Officer Cabrero told his wife to bring him his badge and his gun. When Mr. Goya then refused to open his door, Cabrero called the North Bergen police.
Upon their arrival, Mr. Goya requested a supervisor present because he was afraid of Mr. Cabrero and unsure of whom he might know on the local force. A deputy chief arrived as Mr. Goya finished mopping his living room.
The police said that when they arrived, Mr. Goya was making "a lot of noise." At that time, Mr. Goya was sweeping dust into a dust pan.
Mr. Goya reported that C.O. Cabrero had threatened him with his gun. The police ignored his complaint, however, the deputy chief considered arresting Mr. Goya for telling Mr. Cabrero, "You better watch what you say," regarding the gun threat.
Mr. Goya had obviously run into the Blue Wall. Officer Farago issued a ticket to Mr. Goya for creating a noise nuisance.
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During the trial in North Bergen Municipal court on February 22, 2010, Officer Farago testified that he heard "thumping and rolling" in Mr. Cabrero's apartment coming from the apartment above. He stated that he then observed Mr. Goya using a bucket with wheels and identified it as the source of the noise. Upon cross examination he also testified that the incident occurred at about 10:45 PM and that he could not hear the noise outside of the building, and he could not hear it when he exited his cruiser about 40 feet from the premises.
Mr. Goya moved for a dismissal because Ordinance 2151-81, under which the ticket was issued, states
Section 2. Prohibited Acts. No person shall:
The Operation of any such set, instument, phonograph, machine or device between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. in such manner as to be plainly audible at a distance of fifty (50) feet from the building, structure or vehicle in which it is located shall be prima facie evidence of a violation of this section.
The incident occurred before 11 PM and could not be discerned outside the building.
The prosecutor questioned the applicability of the printed ordinance which Mr. Goya presented because it was originally adopted March 5, 1981, and was renewed on December 28, 2005. Mr. Goya presented a receipt showing that he had obtained the ordinance from the clerk's office on February 2, 2010.
Judge Joseph Romano then ruled that the incident was in violation of Section 1, not Section 2, and that Section 1 has no time nor distance limitations (because it governs really annoying and injurious noises)
Section 1. - General Prohibition. It is declared to be a nuisance and unlawful for any person to make, cause, or suffer or permit to be made or caused upon any premises owned, occupied or controlled by him or it, or upon any public street, alley or throughfare in the Township, any unnecessary noises or sounds by means of the human voice, or by any other means or methods which are physically annoying to persons, or which are so harsh, or so prolonged or unnatural or unusual in their use, time and place as to occasion discomfort or which are injurious to the lives, health, peace and comfort of the inhabitants of the township or North Bergen.
Mr. Goya called his roommate as his witness, who testified that he was studying in the kitchen at the time, and the only noise he heard was a "hum." Judge Romano asked him to demonstrate the hum, so the witness blew softly into the microphone to create a soft whoosh and stated that was similar to the sound. The witness stated that nobody in the apartment uses the bucket with wheels, and that Mr. Goya used a small bucket without wheels for the mopping.
Mr. Goya testified that he did not use the bucket with wheels and was not making any discernable noise, that the TV was not even turned on and it was quiet. He stated that he believed that Corrections Officer John Cabrero had shown his badge to the officers, and they automatically took his side as the "Blue Wall." He stated that Mr. Cabrero had harassed him and his roommates in the past by calling the North Bergen Fire Department at about 2 AM because he allegedly heard smoke alarms. When the Fire Department inspected, they found no alarms going off. He testified that Mr. Cabrero is a "nut job" and has been told to move out by March 1, because he harassed and threatened multiple tenants, including the building superintendant, with his gun.
Judge Joseph Romano ruled that the Officer Farago's testimony was credible, that the defendant's witness was the only one to hear a "hum," that there is no such thing as a "Blue Wall of Silence," and that he found being in Mr. Goya's presence extremely irritating and annoying. He said that the police had handled the incident properly and must also have been annoyed and irritated by Mr. Goya.
Judge Joseph Romano imposed the maximum fine of $25 plus $25 in court fees. He then asked Mr. Goya why he should not also impose the maximum imprisonment of 5 days. Mr. Goya replied, "It would be a travesty of justice to put me in jail for sweeping my floor." Judge Romano said he agreed, and directed Mr. Goya to pay his fine, which he paid to the clerk.
When Mr. Goya discussed the trial with his psychotherapist, she said, "What did you expect? You cannot go against the police department."
In a previous incident in 2001, the North Bergen police took Mr. Goya, his wife and his daughter into custody for suspected child abuse when a neighbor reported that Mr. Goya's wife had said, "Why don't you stop kissing her ass?" during a discussion about Mr. Goya's mother. A DYFS case worker wanted to send Mr. Goya's daughter to a doctor for forensic examination, but the police released them.