Judge gives suspended Franklin fire chief a shot at redemption following arrest

HARDYSTON — The chief of Franklin Borough's fire department, suspended last month after he was charged with assaulting his girlfriend, will have 60 days to prove he can abstain from alcohol and any further incidents with the woman before a court moves forward with his case, a judge ruled.

Khyle Conklin, 28, who has served at the helm of the borough's volunteer division since 2020, will have what a prosecutor called a "cooling off period" to abide by the conditions recommended. Conklin, who was charged with simple assault on Jan. 19 following a midnight dispute with the woman, whose head he purportedly slammed against a wall, will also have to continue seeing a counselor, said Judge Paris Eliades, Hardyston's municipal court judge, during Conklin's first appearance Wednesday evening.

Eliades, who was a Sussex County assistant prosecutor before opening his own practice, said that while he is offering Conklin a chance to prove himself, he also is taking the case "very seriously," as he does with all cases involving domestic violence.

"I'm not prejudging this, but when someone strikes another person, especially in a relationship, it's a bad precursor, quite frankly, and while you can use the excuse of alcohol, it's just that: completely and ultimately an excuse," Eliades said. "It shows that you have that predisposition engaging in that violence."

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"Not every drunk hits people," Eliades said. "Please keep your hands to yourself, I don't want to see you back here."

Conklin attended the hearing with the woman, who told the judge the couple is still together. She did not file a temporary restraining order after the incident, but a mediator with Domestic Abuse & Sexual Assault Intervention Services spoke with her several times on Wednesday. The non-profit agency, a Sussex County program well-known as DASI, offers services to victims and survivors of domestic and sexual abuse and in 2018, launched a courtroom initiative in an effort to reduce the recidivism rate of domestic violence in the county.

Conklin did not have an attorney and is representing himself on a disorderly persons offense of simple assault, which the judge advised carries a maximum penalty of six months in county jail. Conklin did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Jonathan McMeen, a municipal prosecutor, said he had reviewed the case, spoke with the victim and a representative of DASI and wanted to carry the case for 60 days to offer Conklin a chance to fulfill his court-mandated conditions. He will then revisit the case in April, when it is possible the charge could be dismissed.

Conklin admitted that in the hours before the incident, he was at the fire department and drinking at Brick & Brew, a borough bar and grill, and the victim also indicated Conklin had ingested alcohol, Franklin Sgt. Robert VanderPloeg, the arresting officer, previously told the New Jersey Herald. VanderPloeg said he wrote in his arrest report Conklin appeared to be under the influence at the time of the offense and when he was arrested, but clarified to the Herald that Conklin was not charged with driving under the influence because he was outside his vehicle when police arrested him. Conklin also did not display signs of intoxication when he was placed into custody, VanderPloeg said.

The Franklin Borough Fire Department seen in January 2019.
The Franklin Borough Fire Department seen in January 2019.

The woman called 911 to report Conklin was assaulting her, later telling officers Conklin also struck her in the face and head, which had caused her pain, and he had destroyed the apartment, records show. Conklin had fled the home in the fire department's pickup truck, which is paid for by the borough, and drove to the department's parking lot, where he switched out the truck for his own vehicle, police said. He was taken into custody in Ogdensburg. He admitted he struck the woman, but said he did so in self-defense, records show.

Michael Raperto, the borough's deputy chief, was elevated to fire chief following Conklin's suspension. The department operates as its own entity with its own bylaws and procedures, such as disciplinary procedures. Fred Babcock Jr., the department's president, said Conklin will remain inactive pending the case's resolution.

Conklin has served as a firefighter for the borough since 2012.

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 fire chief arrest: Judge gives man 60 days to prove self