"It's not like it happens all the time."
High School can be a tough time for most teenagers, what with exam worries, peer pressure, and the added anxiety from abiding by social conventions, all of which form part of that ever-changing time in a young adults life. Most of these societal rules and norms that govern human behaviour, such as certain customs, values and traditions, are usually taken for granted, however sometimes these rules are ignored, flaunted or just plain broken for the sheer fun of defying authority.
So when someone began defecating near the Holmdel High School football field, both pupils and staff suspected that one student had been relieving their stress or even making an unspecified statement about sport. Over the course of several months, it was reported that an unknown person, dubbed the “Mystery Pooper”, had defecated almost daily at the running track. But when a surveillance operation caught someone in the act, and news about the arrest… leaked out, the identity of the mystery pooper would shock the entire community.
As he stood in the dock, few could have imagined that 43-year-old Thomas W. Tramaglini of Aberdeen Township in North Jersey, an upstanding member of the community, could be guilty of an on-going case of mystery ‘pooping’ that had been occurring for months at the track and football field at Holmdel High School. At a September 2019 hearing, a complaint made by Tramaglini was thrown out by the Judge, and he would not be awarded $1 million in damages. But how did this man the media were now referring to as the “Pooperintendent,” come to be in this predicament.
The Mystery Pooper
Patrolman Jonathan C. Martin of the Holmdel Police Department, a school resource officer employed at the Holmdel High School, began to receive complaints from students and high school staff about their daily discovery of feces at various locations around the track and football field. Patrolman Martin began an investigation into these claims, and set up a surveillance camera at the school’s athletic complex in a bid to catch the Kenilworth Pooper. On May 1, 2018, at around 5:30am, Martin discovered fresh feces under the bleachers. At that moment he confronted someone who was running around the track.
This person was Thomas Tramaglini, the 43-year-old Kenilworth public schools superintendent, who was immediately arrested by Patrolman Martin on charges of lewdness, littering, and defecating in public for pooping on the school grounds. According to a police statement, the arrest stemmed from reports from high school staff who notified the police that they were “finding human feces, on or near the area of the High School track/football field on a daily basis,”. “I don’t know if it was daily, but it’s been going on for a while,” a Holmdel community member said. “I heard it was at least eight times in the past few months.”
When the arrest was announced, media outlets were unable to reach Tramaglini for comment, and journalist had many questions about the case, so many that they couldn’t hold them in… With news outlets publishing details of the story, it soon garnered sensationalist headlines around the world, and Tramaglini was referred to in the press by the unflattering nicknames “Super Pooper,” the “Mad Crapper,” and the “Pooperintendent”. The fallout was swift. Over the course of several months, Tramaglini took a paid leave from his position as school superintendent for Kenilworth Township, where he had worked in since December 2015.
He began working in the Kenilworth school district in February 2016, after the former superintendent resigned to take another position. “It’s truly an honor to be afforded the opportunity to serve as the educational leader of the Kenilworth school district. The district has a tradition of excellence in which I am excited to be a part of. I look forward to bringing together the great work of out parents, teachers, faculty, administrators and entire school community so out students receive an education that is second to none,” Tramaglini said in a statement shortly after he was hired.
Tramaglini eventually resigned from his superintendent’s job, where he earned a yearly salary of $147,502. He then threatened to sue local police for $1 million for releasing his mugshot. In his complaint, Tramaglini claimed that “sophomoric news stories,” accompanied by his mug shot, ultimately forced him to resign, ending his 20-year career in public education. On October 24, 2018, Tramaglini pleaded guilty to public defecation. In his plea, he admitted pooping near the track field, but said it only occurred once. He was fined $500 for the non-criminal municipal offense, and paid an additional $33 to cover court costs.
His lawyer, Matthew Adams, said “There’s no evidence he was ever a serial offender. So much went on today (in court) that flies in the face of everything, unfortunately, he’s been through. He’s been through hell and back. He deserves a story that tells the accurate picture.” Adams went to say that Tramaglini has a condition called Runner’s Diarrhea, which causes loose bowel movements because of the way the body reacts during physical exercise. He said Tramaglini had a “medical emergency” that day of the incident and needed to defecate.
According to Adams, Tramaglini took care of business under the track bleachers because there were no available bathrooms nearby and then “cleaned up after himself.” Court documents, however, said there are portable toilets about 30 feet from where Tramaglini admitted to defecating in public. At sentencing, Tramaglini produced a medical report that showed he had “runners diarrhea”. The document also claimed that, “as of May 1, 2018, when the summonses were issued, plaintiff, a long-time veteran runner, had never been treated for this condition, and, indeed never saw a physician regarding the same until three weeks after the public defecation charges were lodged.”
“It’s been getting worse as I’ve gotten older,” Tramaglini told a local news reporter. “But I run 40 miles a week and it’s not like it happens all the time.” Adams also said, “We were ready to go to trial on some of the allegations about certain dates with GPS evidence from his Garmin running watch, that story needs to be told.” After sentencing, Tramaglini said the case devastated his life. He lost his job, and the bulk of his $100,000 severance went to child support and attorney fees.
Tramaglini told one media outlet that after the stories ran, he received physical threats and his family, including his kids, were harassed. “My kids are taking a beating,” he said. “They’re being ostracized and teased. That’s, by far, the worst part. And you know how people like to Google their names? When they Google theirs, this will always come up.” His lawsuit filed in federal court was later dismissed. A separate lawsuit, which seeks an unspecified amount of compensatory damages, was filed in Superior Court in Monmouth County where it is pending.
In a lawsuit, filed in federal court in New Jersey, Thomas Tramaglini said 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. He further said, Tramaglini’s life has been ruined as a result of the dissemination of the photo. The township filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, on the basis that the police department wasn’t violating any laws when it took Tramaglini’s mugshot and that Tramaglini’s defense team failed to prove that Martin or the police chief released the photo to the media.
Tramaglini sought unspecified monetary damages, as well as attorney’s fees. In February 2019, 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. The judge dismissed the lawsuit, rejecting Tramaglini’s claim that the dissemination of the his mug shot violated his federal rights to privacy and due process. However, Tramaglini’s other claims, including negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, and negligent hiring, training and supervision, could go forward in state court.
“The emotional distress suffered by plaintiff was so severe that no reasonable person should be expected to endure it,” stated the lawsuit filed by his attorney, Matthew Adams. Tramaglini said losing his job and reputation will make it hard to recover, and that he expects to be unemployed for the foreseeable future. “I loved my job… I wanted to stay there for my whole career,” he said. “I’ve been portrayed as a horrible, deranged person,” he said. “There is nothing you can say or do to change the people’s minds.”