Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Bedminster paid out $450,000 to suspended police officer and reinstated him retroactive to October 2, 2017 to settle his whistleblower lawsuit. For his part, the cop agreed to retire effective December 31, 2018.

On December 3, 2018, the Township of Bedminster (Somerset County) agreed to pay $450,000 to a police officer the Township Committee voted to suspend with pay on October 2, 2017.  Of the $450,000, $150,000 was paid by the Township and the other $300,000 was paid by the Township's insurance carrier.

In his lawsuit, John A. Dapkins, Jr., a 16-year veteran of the Bedminster Police Department, brought a litany of claims against the Township's police department and Sergeants Nanci Arraial and Chief Karl Rock.  According to his lawsuit, Dapkins, who said that he had extensive firearms training, claimed that he resigned his Firearms Instructor position after being "forced" to certify Arraial and two other officers as being proficient in Use of Force and Self-Defense "even though they were not capable of completing the standard."  Arraial allegedly became the Firearms Instructor in 2014, even though the then police chief knew "that she wasn't qualified to assume such duties," according to the lawsuit. Dapkins claimed that "Arraial was teaching the wrong instruction courses and was not qualified to do so."

Dapkins claimed that after his complaints to his supervisor, Chief Karl Rock, were ignored, he brought his complaints that "Arraial did fraudulently qualify multiple members of the Bedminster Police Department from 2014 to the Fall of 2016" to the Internal Affairs unit which referred them to the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office.  He said that the Prosecutor's Office validated his complaints by requiring the Police Department to requalify everyone.  According to Dapkins' lawsuit, "Arraial [received] overtime monies to complete the qualifications she improperly performed in the first place."

Dapkins also claimed that Rock told him "to go no further" pursuing the Department's alleged failure to complete the correct radar training "since it could void summonses, open the town to civil suits and bad press."  Dapkins further accused Arraial of slandering him by "describing untrue homosexual acts between [Dapkins] and Detective Sergeant Smith of the Bernardsville Police Department."  He claimed that Arraial repeatedly acted in a sexually hostile manner and once made "sexually explicit comments about [another officer's] penis" and replicated "a sexual act to Officer Greenstein in the presence of children from the Bedminster elementary school on a school-sponsored trip to Dorney Park, PA."

Dapkins claimed that after his repeated complaints were ignored by the chain of command, he went in mid-2016 to Township Administrator Judith Sullivan.  Going to Sullivan, he claimed, resulted in Rock issuing a retaliatory directive.  Many more allegations are recited in the lengthy lawsuit.

Also named in the lawsuit were Rock, Sergeant Francesco Bernardo and Robert Verry.  Verry, a former South Bound Brook Police Chief, was hired by the Township to conduct an investigation regarding internal affairs complaints filed against Dapkins.  Dapkins claimed that Verry "is a known friend of" Rock and that his report, which caused Dapkins' suspension, was "replete with innuendo, false statements, unsupported allegations, misrepresentations of fact, and . . . flagrant omissions" and "can be concluded to be the result of a conspiracy between" Verry and Township officials.  Verry filed a cross-claim against the Township and is presently seeking to recover his legal fees because "the Township wrongfully refused to defend" him from Dapkins' lawsuit.

As part of the settlement, Dapkins agreed not to disparage Bedminster or any of its officials and not to "seek any publicity or make any statement to the media" regarding this lawsuit except to say that "The matter was resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned."  The Township agreed to dismiss "any and all pending disciplinary charges against Dapkins."

According to a December 10, 2018 e-mail from Bedminster Clerk Judith A. Sullivan, Dapkins, who was hired by the Township on April 16, 2002, earned a 2018 salary of $114,002.38.

The case is captioned Dapkins v. Township of Bedminster et al, Somerset County Superior Court Docket No. SOM-L-1298-16 and Dapkins was represented by Robert B. Woodruff of Scotch Plains. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Bedminster and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay $450,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Roseland confidentially paid out $325,000, made two promotions to settle police officers' whistleblower lawsuit.

On September 12, 2018, the Borough of Roseland (Essex County) quietly agreed to pay $110,000 to three of six officers who sued the Borough's police chief in 2014, to promote to lieutenant two sergeants who had sued and to pay the officers' attorney $215,000.  As part of the settlement deal, the two newly promoted lieutenants agreed to resign one year after their promotions.  One of the officers who sued, however, appears to have received no benefit from the settlement.

In their lawsuit, Sergeants Terry West and Charles Ribaudo, Officers Joseph LaPosta and Glenn Carnevale, retired officer Kevin Donaldson and former officer Freddie L. Mitchell, Jr. claimed that they suffered under Chief Richard McDonough and Captain Kevin Kitchin.  They claim that McDonough managed the police department through "fear and intimidation," showered favors upon officers "who obey[ed] his every whim" and continuously harassed and retaliated against those who questioned or disagreed with him.

Specifically, the six officers claimed that McDonough used on-duty police officers and vehicles to run personal errands for him, smoked cigarettes in the building in violation of state law, "engaged in a very questionable relationship with his administrative assistant [who] supposedly works from home and has been given a Department computer," allowed his friends to use Borough generators during Hurricane Sandy, fixed traffic and parking tickets, misled the public about the Borough's crime statistics, stopped or hindered investigations into alleged crimes committed by family members of political allies, registered his daughter's car in Florida even though she resided in New Jersey and housed his own personal dog on Borough property.

McDonough and Kitchin allegedly "utilize[d] Internal Affairs as a tool of terror, and to create paper trails of specious disciplinary claims against officers they do not like."  The six officers claimed that McDonough and Kitchin "subjected [them] to a continuing pattern of retaliation and discriminatory practices." Mitchell, who claimed to have been wrongfully terminated from the police department, further claimed that he was discriminated against "on the basis of race."

In their lawsuit, the six officers referred to McDonough as a "megalomaniacal despot" and to Kitchin as McDonough's "submissive minion [who] follows McDonough like a 'trained puppy.'"

As part of the settlement, the Borough agreed to promote West and Ribaudo to the rank of lieutenant provided that they both resign one year after the date they are promoted and to work the afternoon and overnight shifts.  The Borough also agreed to pay $325,000 in settlement funds apportioned as follows: $215,000 to the officers' attorney, $50,000 to Carnevale and $30,000 each to Donaldson and LaPosta.

The case is captioned Terry West, et al v. Borough of Roseland et al, Essex County Superior Court Docket No. ESX-L-7620-14 and the six officers' attorney was Patrick P. Toscano, Jr. of Caldwell. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.  A news story published when the lawsuit was filed is on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Roseland or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay $325,000 and promote the two sergeants than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Absecon confidentially paid out $85,000 to settle motel manager's police excessive force lawsuit.

On June 29, 2018, the City of Absecon (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $85,000 to the manager of a Whitehorse Pike motel who claimed that police pepper sprayed him and broke his shoulder when he told them that they weren't doing their jobs.

In his lawsuit, Rohit B. Surti, manager of the Budget Inn 4 U motel, expressed dissatisfaction with Absecon Police Officer Kevin Craig's decision to not take any action against a motel guest that Surti had called police to complain about.  When Craig told Surti that Absecon Police are often dispatched to the Budget Inn and were "tired" of going there,  Surti told Craig that he should "do [his] job," according to the complaint.

Surti's comment allegedly infuriated Craig who, according to the lawsuit, "sprayed Mr. Surti with pepper spray in the eyes [and] moved the canister back and forth horizontally several times across Mr. Surti's eyes."  Officer Laura Winkel, who had been standing behind Surti while he was being pepper sprayed, allegedly "grabbed Mr. Surti's arms and forcefully pulled them behind his back [and] forced Mr. Surti from a standing position to the prone position, without buffering, onto the asphalt parking lot of the motel . . . causing a dislocation and fracture of Mr. Surti's left shoulder and left arm."  The incident occurred on June 18, 2013.

When Surti complained of severe pain in his arm while at the police station, Craig allegedly told him "not to be dramatic."

According to a February 16, 2018 opinion by United States District Court Judge Robert B. Kugler, Winkel had given Surti a summons about an hour prior to the alleged excessive force incident for having stolen shopping carts from the Dollar Store on his motel premises.  Craig and Winkel then returned to the motel in response to a call about a disturbance between Surti and a six-week resident at the motel.  Winkel wrote in her report that Surti, who Craig alleged had the odor of alcohol on his breath, was yelling at the guest from across the parking lot and was repeatedly told to lower his voice because the commotion was causing other motel residents to come out of their rooms.

According to Judge Kugler's opinion, Surti pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and resisting arrest and harassment charges against him were dismissed.  Surti was joined in the lawsuit by his wife Jayshri R. Surti.

The case is captioned Surti v. Absecon Police Department, et al, Federal Case No. 1:15-cv-03949 and Surti's attorney was Robert D. Herman of Linwood. Case documents and Judge Kugler's opinion are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Absecon or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Surti $85,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Perth Amboy confidentially paid out $125,000 to settle former police officer's racial harassment lawsuit.

On August 8, 2018, the Perth Amboy (Middlesex County) City Council resolved to pay $125,000 to a now retired police officer who said that he was subjected to racial slurs and racial discrimination.

In his lawsuit, Stephen Petrosino, who described himself as being "of African-American and Caucasian decent [sic]," claimed that other Perth Amboy police officers called him "half-breed" at least once a week since he started working as a City police officer in 1992.  Petrosino alleged that "Sgt. Montalvo" (presumably Sergeant Andy Montalvo) would call him a "thumbprint" during roll call and "blacky black" on other occasions.  Other officers, who were overwhelmingly Caucasian, according to the lawsuit, would join in when Montalvo would call Petrosino derogatory names during roll call.

"Lt. Killane" (presumably Lieutenant Steve Killane) allegedly told Petrosino, in response to his complaints about Montalvo's comments, that "one day [Petrosino] was white and that the next day [Petrosino] was black."

Petrosino claimed that other officers placed "pictures of two of the Little Rascals, specifically Buckwheat and Stymie, . . . with captions stating that it was Officer Petrosino and Officer Rogers, an officer of African-American decent [sic]."

Petrosino retired in 2017 and collects a $64,279 "special" pension annually, according to DataUniverse.  His final salary for the City was $107,880.

The case is captioned Petrosino v. Perth Amboy Police Department, et al, Docket No. MID-L-442-16 and Petrosino's attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel. Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Perth Amboy or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Petrosino $125,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Vineland quietly paid out $425,000 to settle detective's whistleblower lawsuit.

On August 20, 2018, the City of Vineland (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $425,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a police detective who claimed that he was retaliated against for reporting another detective's alleged act of warning a fugitive that undercover police officers were going to search his residence.

In his lawsuit, Richard Burke said he discovered evidence that Detective Shane Harris "hindered a fugitive investigation by warning the fugitives that Vineland police officers were outside [the fugitive's] residence and described their undercover cars to the fugitive as well as providing advice to the fugitive to refuse a search of his residence."  Burke claimed that he later learned that "Harris' daughter was dating one of the fugitives involved in the investigation and that her vehicle was used to flee from Vineland Police Officers [and that one of the fugitives attempted] to strike Sergeant Steven Triantos with Detective Harris' daughter's vehicle."  He also claimed that Harris' mother hid the fugitive in her home.

Despite reporting his findings to his superiors, including Captain Rudolph Beu, Captain Thomas Ulrich, Sergeant Steven Triantos and Sergeant Leonard Wolf, Burke claimed that no action was taken against Harris.  Rather, Uhrich "threatened to suspend [Burke] if he continued to complain about Harris' conduct," according to the lawsuit.

Burke said that his efforts to hold Harris accountable led to a "steady barrage of retaliation" from his superiors including being demoted, being denied sick time and personal days, having his car taken away and being called "a rat."

As part of the settlement, Burke agreed to "retire his position as an officer with the City of Vineland Police Department effective August 31, 2018 due to work related disability injury."

The case is captioned Burke v. City of Vineland, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-649-15 and Burke's attorney was Louis Barbone of Atlantic City.  The complaint and settlement agreement are on-line here

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Vineland or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Burke $425,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Tuckerton paid out $65,000 to settle female volunteer firefighter's sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit.

On April 6, 2016, the Borough of Tuckerton (Ocean County) agreed to pay $65,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former female volunteer firefighter who claimed that senior fire company officials retaliated against her after a Fire Captain, who was the Fire Chief's son, broke off an "intimate relationship" with her.

According to her lawsuit, Janette Dominski, who became a probationary member of the Tuckerton Volunteer Fire Company in the Fall of 2012, began an "intimate relationship" in December 2012 with Lewis E. Eggert, Jr. who was a Fire Captain and son of Fire Chief Lewis E. Eggert, Sr. "Despite their agreement to keep their intimate relationship separate from their positions with [the] Fire Company, on or about December 30, 2012, Captain Eggert kissed [Dominski] while at the fire house where he pushed Plaintiff against the fire truck," according to the lawsuit.

Dominski claimed that Captain Eggert "became distant" with her in January 2013 and told her "that they should end their relationship because he did not want to put [Dominski] through what his family put his ex-girlfriend Hannah through."  According to the civil complaint, Hannah was a former member of the fire company "and was forced out . .  very similar to the way [Dominski] was ultimately forced to leave."  Captain Eggert, who lived with his parents at the time, told Dominski that he had a conversation with his father about the "Hannah situation" and wanted to "spare her," according to the complaint.

Shortly after their relationship ended, Dominski claimed that Captain Eggert "clearly threatened" her position and that photographs that she had taken of a fire scene and shared with her Facebook friends "became an issue."  The photos were of a December 18, 2012 fire at Mystic Island.  Fire Company President Charles Uhl told her at the time that she could not take pictures because they "were at a potential crime scene" but that Dale Eggert, who was senior to Dominski, "shrugged it off" when Dominski told him about the photos, according to the lawsuit. Dominski claimed that she did remove the photos from her Facebook account after speaking with Dale Eggert.  Dominski alleged that on January 18, 2013, Chief Eggert sent her an e-mail telling her that her photo-taking was "a dead issue. Nothing was done wrong."

On January 31, 2013, Dominski said that she was accused by Captain Eggert, President Uhl and others of attending a Fire Academy graduation when she was actually standing by at the fire station studying for her classes.  When she denied that she attended the graduation, Captain Eggert, President Uhl and the others "continued to bully and humiliate" her.  Eggert allegedly told her that she "had become quiet and secretive" and was "going to be out."

According to the lawsuit, Dominski was relieved of her duties by Chief Eggert after his son, Captain Eggert, told him that she "had symptoms of asthma in cold weather in the past and that this information was not noted on her member application."  Dominski claimed that she did indeed have such symptoms as a child but hadn't suffered from them in years and that her doctor, who knew about her past asthma, didn't list those symptoms on her membership application because it was so long ago.

Dominski claimed that she was required to undergo a second medical examination at her own expense.  She alleged that no other member was required to undergo a second exam except for Hannah, who allegedly also had an intimate relationship with Captain Eggert and left the department because of harassment she suffered.

When she complained about the harassment to Chief Eggert, he summoned her to a February 3, 2013 meeting and told her that "he was upset with his son and found it dishonest that he did not learn about [his son's] relationship [with Dominski] sooner."  Because he was upset, Chief Eggert allegedly said that he "had changed his mind about the" fire scene photos that Dominski had taken in December and threatened to bring charges against her.  Eggert allegedly told Dominski that she would be "bounced" at the next firehouse meeting.

According to the lawsuit, Uhl conducted a hearing regarding disciplinary charges brought against Dominski at the March 5, 2013 meeting.  The hearing, which Dominski described as a "kangaroo court," resulted in the continuance of Dominski's suspension and a one-year extension of her probationary period.

In June 2013, Dominski claimed that there was a notice taped to her gear locker that read "JANETTE DOMINSKI LEAVE THE BUILDING IMMEDIATELY AND DO NOT RETURN UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. Lee Eggert, Chief."  After seeing the notice and returning home, Dominski claimed that a police officer was at her house who informed her that she may have violated the law by possessing a prescription inhaler that Dominski had claimed belonged to her son.  Chief Eggert had called police after he "saw an inhaler in [her] equipment bag . . . that had an old expiration date and had no prescription label," according to the lawsuit. In a letter, Chief Eggert allegedly informed Dominski that she was "terminated from membership in the Tuckerton Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 effective immediately."

The case is captioned Dominski v. Borough of Tuckerton, et al, Ocean County Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-2952-14 and Dominski's attorney was Sebastian B. Ionno of Pitman.  Case documents are on-line here.

Of the $65,000 settlement, Dominski received $38,324.56 and her attorney received the remaining $26,675.44.  Tuckerton also agreed to pay an undetermined amount of mediation costs.

Dominski also agreed to "simply state that the matter is resolved and dismissed and that she has no further comment" if "she is contacted by any member of the news media or any third party seeking comment on the status of the litigation and the settlement herein."  She also agreed to not "seek in any way to be reinstated, re-employed or hired by the Defendants in the future."

None of lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court.  Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Tuckerton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Dominski $65,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

(Note: Dominski's lawsuit was mentioned in another lawsuit filed against the Tuckerton Fire Company that is reported on here.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Lavallette zoning/code enforcement official quietly resigns in exchange for three month's pay plus pay for accrued vacation and personal days.

In a July 16, 2018 "Full and Final Release Agreement," the Borough of Lavallette (Ocean County) agreed to pay its Zoning Official and Code Enforcement Officer $9,396.00 (which is "three (3) months of regular hours of work as salary"), less tax deductions, plus an additional $2,958.50 for accrued vacation and personal days in order to resolve "all disputed claims involving certain disciplinary charges" against the official.  The agreement does not specify the nature of the allegations upon which the charges were based and specifically states that the payment "is not an admission of liability or wrongdoing."

As his part of the agreement, Gary Royer, the former Borough official who received the settlement payments, agreed to submit an irrevocable letter of resignation, effective June 28, 2018, from his Lavallette positions of Zoning Official and Code Enforcement Officer as well as other positions he held in the Borough of Seaside Park.

Both Royer and the Borough agreed to "not discuss this settlement with anyone except to say that it has been resolved to the satisfaction" of both parties.  The Borough also agreed to tell prospective employers only that Royer had "resigned in good standing."