Should a minor offense ruin a life? No, says ex-superintendent who defecated near H.S. track

A former superintendent is suing police for releasing his mug shot, saying it fueled "sophomoric, inaccurate and damaging" news coverage.
Image:
Thomas Tramaglini pleaded guilty to defecating on the track at Holmdel High School in New Jersey, citing a medical condition known as runner's diarrhea. Thomas P. Costello / The Asbury Park Press via AP, Pool file

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By Janelle Griffith

A former New Jersey schools superintendent who pleaded guilty to defecating at a high school track and field complex near his home is suing police for releasing his mug shot to news outlets, alleging it fueled inaccurate coverage that has permanently and irreparably altered his life.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in New Jersey, Thomas Tramaglini says the Holmdel Township Police Department violated his constitutional rights by its "unlawful taking and subsequent leaking" of the picture after he was issued summonses last year. The lawsuit names the police department, township, police chief and some police staff.

“The booking photograph should have never been taken, to say nothing of the fact that it was immediately thereafter unlawfully released into the public domain, fueling sophomoric, inaccurate, and damaging ‘new stories’ about Plaintiff,” the lawsuit states.

The release of mug shots is “expressly prohibited under” state law for low-level, noncriminal offenses, such as those Tramaglini faced, his attorney, Matthew Adams, told NBC News.

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Tramaglini's life has been ruined as a result of the dissemination of the photo, his lawyer said.

He resigned as superintendent of the Kenilworth school district in the northern part of the state after a 20-year career in public education. The mug shot, in particular, was cited by the Kenilworth Board of Education as a reason for parting ways with him, according to the lawsuit.

“Tramaglini will never achieve the level of compensation, benefits and retirement pension income that he would have otherwise if the unlawfully taken photographs of him had not been released into the media to satisfy the prurient interests" of some police and others, the lawsuit says.

Tramaglini told NBC News he has obtained some limited work outside the education field, but is underemployed and struggling to get back to where his career was before the release of his mug shot.

He was charged with lewdness, littering and defecating in public in May after police said he repeatedly defecated on the Holmdel High School track. He pleaded guilty in October to relieving himself in public in a single instance under the high school's bleachers due to a medical emergency, and he paid a $500 fine.

He also submitted to the court and prosecutor's office proof of a medical condition known as runner's diarrhea that often affects distance runners and that is brought on from acute blood flow during exercise.

Tramaglini is seeking unspecified monetary damages, as well as attorney's fees.

In February, Tramaglini asked New Jersey’s attorney general to investigate whether police acted unlawfully when they took his mug shot and released it to the media.

David Schwartz, an attorney representing Holmdel Township — as well as its police chief and a patrolman named in the lawsuit — told NBC News the township does not comment on pending litigation.