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Cop accused of lewd act at Starbucks

A cop has been removed from duty after being charged with lewdness for allegedly masturbating in a Cherry Hill Starbucks earlier this month.

A CAMDEN police lieutenant is facing a lewdness charge, accused of making his private parts public at a Cherry Hill Starbucks earlier this month.

Lt. Benito Gonzalez, a decorated veteran of the Camden County Police Department, was charged with a disorderly persons offense, Cherry Hill Police said, for an incident inside the Starbucks on Route 70 on May 7.

Police said that Gonzalez pulled down his shorts while seated at a table inside the store and masturbated.

Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson said Monday that Gonzalez has been "removed from duty" and that the department was "deeply troubled by the allegations of this off-duty conduct."

Last week, Cherry Hill posted a photo of the alleged suspect on its Facebook page, asking the public if they could help identify a man with a tan complexion and a shaved head in two surveillance photographs. The man, police said, was wanted in connection with a "suspicious incident" in the store. That post has since been taken down.

A photograph of Gonzalez ran with a recent article in the Courier-Post newspaper about the police department's progress a year after it transformed the city department into a county-run department. Gonzalez told the newspaper that the narcotics unit he supervises is smaller now but still makes an impact on the city's streets. The newspaper said Gonzalez was a 17-year-member of the department.

Gonzalez, of Deptford, Gloucester County, did not return a request for comment Monday. According to the department's website, he was given an award in October for meritorious service.

A woman who answered the phone at the Starbucks declined to comment Monday and the company later issued a statement, saying its "top priority is to provide a safe environment for our customers and partners (employees), and Starbucks takes all reports of inappropriate activity in our stores very seriously."

Starbucks, according to the statement, immediately notified police.

Thomson said his department is working to "ascertain the facts" on the incident with the Cherry Hill police department and the Camden County Prosecutor's Office. Gonzalez has a hearing scheduled in Cherry Hill on June 4.

@JasonNark, 215-854-5916