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Sentencing of Edison cop brings new chapters to police department, victims’ lives

NEW BRUNSWICK — Four years ago, there was a line of blue supporting former Edison Police Officer Michael Dotro as he made his first court appearance on charges that he set fire to his police captain’s home in Monroe Township.

On Sept. 7, that line of support was long gone as Dotro, 40, of Manalapan, was sentenced to serve 20 years in a New Jersey state prison subject to the No Early Release Act, which was part of a plea agreement reached with Assistant Prosecutor Russell Curley.

His parents and brothers wrote letters to the court asking for leniency.

In the audience were Dotro’s former bosses, Police Chief Thomas Bryan and now-retired Police Captain Mark Anderko.

On May 20, 2013, Anderko and his wife, two children and mother where at their Monroe home when Dotro set fire to the house in the early morning hours.

Dotro was named as a possible suspect by Bryan within days of the incident, stating Dotro was not happy after being disciplined by Anderko for official misconduct and told he was being transferred from the night shift to the day shift and would need to undergo a performance enhancement program.

On May 23, 2013, Dotro, who had been a nine-year veteran of the Edison Police Department, had been charged with five counts of attempted murder and one count of aggravated arson for setting the fire.

In his plea agreement on Aug. 21, Dotro admitted to one count of attempted murder in the first degree and one count of arson in the second degree.

Anderko and his wife declined to comment before the court; however, Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Pedro J. Jimenez, during sentencing, said some members of his family have gone through psychological trauma from the incident, but for the most part the family is recovering and moving on.

“Captain Anderko is far stronger than [Dotro], far more capable than [Dotro] and will take him and his family far beyond where [Dotro] tried to leave them,” Jimenez said.

Dotro’s wife Alycia, who was admitted into a probationary program known as PreTrial Intervention on Aug. 22 for her role in helping her husband in a separate incident, was in the courtroom.

She remained by her husband’s side every step of the way leading up to the jury trial of one of the two pending cases in Middlesex County Superior Court against both of them.

However, at the sentencing, Alycia Dotro stood up and pointed at her husband, calling him “a monster, a manipulative monster” before a sheriff’s officer had to calm her down.

“I’ve been manipulated by some man that is not the person that I know,” Alycia said after the sentencing. “Basically I just came here to watch him [be] taken away in handcuffs to give me a chance to start my life again.”

Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey said in May 2013, he stood in the same spot he was addressing the media on Sept. 7, to announce the serious charges against Michael Dotro.

“At that point I was a brand new prosecutor — two weeks into the job,” he said. “Since that time I have worked with the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, Chief Bryan and many of his officers to analyze what was exactly going on in the Edison Police Department and we have surgically removed the cancerous officers from the Edison Police Department.”

Carey said the Edison Police Department is a much different place than it was four years ago.

“Michael Dotro has now been sentenced and convicted of some very serious crimes that honorable police officers find absolutely repugnant,” he said, adding that officials frankly cleaned up shop in the Edison Police Department. “Four other officers were removed for malfeasance and directly tied to the Dotro investigation and in addition three other [officers] were removed for other acts that were inappropriate as well.”

Carey said over the last three-and-a-half years, Bryan has been able to hire 53 additional police officers and safeguards have been put in place within the Edison department.

“There’s a new tone. It’s a new day in the Edison Police Department,” he said. “All of the police officers who wear the Edison police uniform are proudly serving its citizens, doing a fine job and serving with integrity.”

Bryan expressed his sincere thanks to Carey and the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office for assisting him in making the Edison Police Department a much more professional department.

“We have gone through a long period of time of high profile negative incidents of policemen’s misconduct,” he said. “I’m here today to say thanks to the prosecutor, also Mayor [Thomas] Lankey in assisting me in making the department a better place that it is today. … Residents can rest assured that they have the most professional, highly skilled and highly educated officers protecting them.”

Jimenez said when trying to make sense of what led up to the sentencing, he could not.

“It’s surreal to be here,” he said. “This particular case for me, [a person] who reads the paper every day and reads [about] officers accused of wrongdoing and [watching] videos of what appears to be of wrongdoing … what’s registering [in the Dotro case] is made for a movie.”

Jimenez said he was waiting for the camera crews from “Candid Camera” to come out and/or Ashton Kutcher from “Punk’d” to come tell him this was not real.

“This sentence is being imposed because Mr. Dotro, through his conduct and admission spanning from 1998 to this year, represents the worst we can possibly expect from a member of society,” he said. “Yes, he’s caused very specific damage [to a number of victims] … how can we let an individual like him here in Middlesex County do the things that he has done, things we have seen on the news and other parts of the country?”

Jimenez said because of what Dotro has done and people like him have done, victims are afraid to come forward and be part of the criminal justice system.

Curley, during his comments to the court, said the victim in the official misconduct case against Dotro was crying in his office the day before Dotro’s sentencing because she did not want to face him. Curley said he told the victim that it was best for her to stay at home and he would represent her sentiments to the court.

Jimenez said the life of a police officer is not the same as an everyday citizen.

“Police officers are to be trusted and they train to sacrifice and protect others from horrors and evils in the world,” he said.

Jimenez said during the jury selection process one of the questions that is asked is  “Do you think a police officer is less likely to tell the truth than a person who is not a police officer?”

This, Jimenez said, leaves an incredible mess within the criminal justice system. The only solace, he said, that they can take away from the sentencing of Michael Dotro is, the criminal justice system does its job and takes people like Dotro out of society.

Dotro will have to serve 17 years before becoming eligible for parole. In addition, Jimenez ordered restraining orders to protect the victims involved.

The plea agreement also included Dotro pleading guilty to one count of official misconduct in the second degree in connection with a trial that had commenced on Aug. 15.

In the official misconduct case, Dotro was charged with unlawful access to a computer system and unlawful disclosure of computer system data in 2013 between March 17 and March 20. He is also accused of checking police records and notifying his wife of any reports on the incident of slashing the tires of a car owned by an Edison woman.

Lastly, Dotro pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to tamper with a witness in the third degree in that same case. Dotro had been charged with the witness tampering on Aug. 17.

Contact Kathy Chang at kchang@newspapermedia.group.

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