June 13, 2023
TRENTON — A state grand jury voted to file criminal charges Monday, June 12, against suspended Manville Police Chief Thomas Herbst, who allegedly engaged in sexually inappropriate, criminal acts targeting multiple women against their will for years.
Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin today announced the grand jury returned an eight-count indictment against Herbst, 55, of Bridgewater, who was arrested and charged in April following an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA).
New Jersey residents called to serve on the grand jury returned a “true bill” in the case, charging Herbst with two counts of sexual assault, four counts of official misconduct, one count of a pattern of official misconduct, and one count of criminal sexual contact.
The indictment includes a new count covering suspected misconduct by Herbst following his suspension, after the investigation found that the defendant deliberately held onto a Manville Police badge he was required to turn in after he was suspended from the force. The investigation revealed Herbst displayed the badge he wrongfully retained when he was pulled over by a local police officer on January 30, 2023, misrepresenting himself as an active-duty member of the police department.
“We expect those who swear an oath to uphold and enforce the law to be honorable, committed to the cause of justice, and dedicated to public service, and we require that they follow the law themselves,” said Attorney General Platkin. “Herbst allegedly established an unsafe toxic work environment for women where power was abused. His conduct, as alleged, was unacceptable and criminal, and we expect to prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law for these alleged abuses of the public’s trust.”
“Police chiefs should be a positive example for their officers and the people of their communities,” said Thomas Eicher, the Executive Director of OPIA. “We allege that, instead, Herbst used his rank and the badge inappropriately to benefit himself, including after he was suspended from the job for his previous conduct. The grand jury returned criminal charges based on alleged conduct that falls far outside the professional standards and the responsibilities that come with the uniform.”
Herbst is accused of unwanted sexual behavior toward at least three women. According to the investigation, the chief regularly groped, exposed himself to, sexually harassed, and sexually assaulted an employee of the police department who reported directly to him, using coercion and doing so without the victim’s consent, between 2008 and 2021. The attacks often happened while he and the victim were on duty, and many of the alleged attacks took place in various locations at police headquarters.
In one of the earlier attacks, the defendant called the victim into his office and told her he would allow her to leave work early. He then stood next to the chair in which she was sitting in a way that prevented her from getting out. He then removed his penis from his pants, masturbated, and ejaculated into her hair and onto her clothing. He told her he was sorry and directed her to go home.
Acts like the initial attack allegedly occurred repeatedly, but eventually escalated to acts of assault by penetration.
Investigators say the defendant at one point ordered the one victim to begin wearing skirts to work to facilitate and escalate the assaults. On occasion, he would arrange to meet her at a motel to assault her, and at one point when she resisted, he accused her of disobeying orders.
Herbst also allegedly attacked the victim in her own home, entering through the backdoor of her home uninvited and sexually assaulting the victim. Investigators say that, in an attempt to avoid those encounters, the victim began closing her blinds, locking her doors, and parking in her garage so that when the defendant drove by, he would not know she was home.
According to the investigation, Herbst also solicited sexual favors from the wife of one of his subordinate officers in order for that officer to receive favorable employment decisions and opportunities. In one instance, the defendant texted his subordinate demanding oral sex from the employee’s wife in exchange for a promotion. That conduct violated Borough of Manville sexual harassment policies prohibiting a borough employee from requesting sexual favors when submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for an employment decision affecting a municipal employee.
Evidence additionally revealed the defendant went to the newly purchased home of another victim, who had previously been his subordinate, and while touring the house, sexually assaulted her.
The charges against the defendant are merely accusations and he is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The case is being prosecuted by Deputy Attorneys General Samantha Thoma and Andrew Wellbrock, under the supervision of Corruption Bureau Deputy Chiefs Heather Hausleben and Jeff Manis, Bureau Chief Peter Lee, OPIA Deputy Director Anthony Picione and OPIA Executive Director Thomas Eicher.
Defense counsel: James Wronko, Esq.