Franklin Borough fire chief suspended and accused of assaulting girlfriend, police say
Franklin Borough's volunteer fire chief has been suspended from his duties after he was arrested last week for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend and destroying her apartment, later fleeing the home in the borough-issued chief's pickup truck, police said.
Khyle Conklin, 28, who has served as the borough's top firefighter since 2020, had allegedly been drinking before a midnight dispute with the woman turned physical and he struck her in the face and head, at one point slamming her head against the interior of the apartment, police said. Conklin purportedly also "threw items" around the home and punched the bed frame, breaking it.
Conklin, who police said drove to the fire department after the incident to switch out the department truck for his own vehicle, was later taken into custody by Ogdensburg police officers. He was charged by Franklin Borough police on a summons complaint with simple assault, a disorderly persons offense.
Conklin did not respond to several requests for comment.
In Franklin, as is common in several towns, the firehouse, grounds, fire trucks, including the chief's truck, and equipment are owned by the municipality. The fire department operates as its own entity with its own bylaws and procedures, such as handling disciplinary matters. Borough code states that the mayor and council approve the department's rules and regulations, which are governed by the fire department.
Conklin is to have no active duties in the fire department pending the resolution of his case, Fred Babcock Jr., the fire department's president, told the New Jersey Herald on Friday. Michael Raperto, the current deputy chief, will serve in the top spot, added Babcock, who served as chief for several years before Conklin took the helm in 2020. He did not wish to provide further comment stating it was an internal issue.
Franklin Mayor John Sowden and John Postas, council president, did not respond to requests for comment. John Ursin, the borough attorney, said Thursday evening to not expect a response from township officials, only stating "The Borough has no comment."
Police say the woman called 911 on Jan. 19 to report Conklin was hitting her and a dispatcher advised the couple to separate from one another while Franklin officers were en route to the apartment, records show. The woman told the first responding officer Sgt. Robert VanderPloeg, who is also the affiant on police records, that Conklin had "rocked" her — a slang term used to describe someone having been "beaten up" — and that she had head and face pain, records show.
Conklin, police said, had already left the home before they arrived driving what the victim said was the chief's fire truck. Officers found the truck, but not Conklin, at the fire department and were notified Conklin had likely driven his personal vehicle from the department. Nearby agencies were advised to stop and hold Conklin, who was found a short time later by patrols in Ogdensburg and he was placed in custody without incident, police said.
Conklin admitted to police that earlier in the evening he had been at the fire department and drinking alcohol at Brick & Brew, a bar and grill in the borough, VanderPloeg said by phone on Thursday. The police report indicates Conklin "appeared to be under the influence at the time of the offense" and further states that "at the time of arrest he was under the influence." He was not charged with drinking and driving, which VanderPloeg said he determined was not at play.
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Conklin was not operating his vehicle when Ogdensburg patrol officers found him prior to handing over custody to Franklin officers, VanderPloeg said. Alcohol was noted in the report because of the woman's statements and Conklin's own admissions he had been drinking, VanderPloeg said, but Conklin did not appear impaired at the scene.
"If alcohol is at all at play, regardless of degree of impairment or whether or not he is intoxicated in the eye of the law, I would still put alcohol (in the report) because he had consumed that evening," VanderPloeg said. State statute permits an individual to ingest some alcohol before they reach the .08% legal blood alcohol concentration limit when it is illegal to drink and drive, he added.
VanderPloeg said based on his interaction with Conklin that evening, there were no physical manifestations of impairment or alcohol consumption, meaning Conklin had not, for example, been swaying or slurring his speech nor did he smell of alcohol.
While in custody, Conklin, who had dried blood on his hands, admitted he struck the woman but said he did so in self-defense and that he had been struck in the face by the woman, records show. Police said Conklin did not exhibit any signs of injury nor did he complain of pain.
The woman was treated at the scene by members of the Wallkill Valley First Aid Squad, but she declined further care at the hospital, the arrest record states. She declined a temporary restraining order, VanderPloeg said.
It was believed that the woman told Conklin she was ending their relationship or their relationship had recently ended and the victim indicated that "alcohol consumption did not play a role in the incident," police wrote.
Conklin was 18 years old when he first became a firefighter in the borough in December 2012. He served as captain in 2017 and 2018 and assistant chief in 2019 before taking over the top spot.
The chief and its officers are elected by the volunteer members at the start of each year. The department has upwards of 30 unpaid members that cover fires, accidents and emergency calls within a roughly 4.4-square-mile radius that houses nearly 5,000 people.
Gregory Mueller, Sussex County's first assistant prosecutor, said his office was unaware of the incident until the New Jersey Herald contacted them this week. He obtained the investigation reports and reviewed it Thursday.
"It does appear with regard to the criminal charge it is appropriate, however, the matter is under review by our office," Mueller said.
Conklin's charges were filed in the Franklin Borough Municipal Court, but the case was transferred to Hardyston Municipal Court due to a conflict of interest, with his first appearance scheduled for Feb. 1, according to the court administrator. He faces a maximum six months in jail if convicted on the charge.
Lori Comstock can be reached on Twitter: @LoriComstockNJH, on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/LoriComstockNJH or by phone: 973-383-1194.
This article originally appeared on New Jersey Herald: Franklin NJ fire chief arrested, accused of assaulting woman