Friday, November 27, 2015

Weehawken pays $747,000 to settle two lawsuits brought by police official.

Richard F. Turner
Weehawken Mayor
On October 30, 2015, the Township of Weehawken (Hudson County) agreed to pay $747,000 to a Township Police lieutenant to settle his two lawsuits, two disciplinary actions and to provide for the lieutenant's retirement.

In his federal suit filed in 2008, Richard DeCosmis claimed that Mayor Richard F. Turner led a campaign of retaliation against him because he publicly criticized Weehawken's alleged misuse of state funds intended for a Park and Ride to develop a parking lot "to benefit a private building developer and political contributor to Mayor Turner and his allies."  DeCosmis claimed that the alleged retaliation was also sparked by his refusal to allow Union City Mayor Brian Stack's campaign signs on his property, because of his support of "another political candidate running against Mayor Turner's political faction," and because DeCosmis filed a 2007 civil rights lawsuit against Turner "because [of] his unlawful interference with the day-to-day interference with the Weehawken Police Department and public corruption."

The alleged retaliation came in the form of Jorge Chemas allegedly "conducting an unannounced and illegal building code inspection" of DeCosmis' home in Weehawken, which was under renovation and Building Inspector Frank Tattoli issuing a stop work order on the renovation after Chemas, who DeCosmis claimed to had not been property licensed to conduct inspections, was arrested for trespassing.  DeCosmis claimed that Chemas filed a citizen complaint against him which was ultimately determined in DeCosmis' favor.

After his acquittal on Chemas' citizen complaint, DeCosmis claimed that Mayor Turner, working through Deputy Chief William McLellan, Director of Public Safety Jeffrey Welz and Business Manager James Machetti, brought baseless disciplinary charges against him.

The case is captioned DeCosmis v. Township of Weehawken et al, Federal Case No. 2:08-cv-05221 and DeCosmis's attorney was Louis A. Zayas of North Bergen.  Case documents are on-line here.  In addition to the federal case, the settlement also resolved a whistleblower lawsuit DeCosmis filed in state court in 2013 against the Township, Richard Turner, Weehawken & You Action Committee and Christopher Douglas (Docket No. HUD-L-2990-13) as well as two disciplinary cases pending before the Office of Administrative Law--Docket No. OAL CSV-10084-12 (demotion from Lieutenant to Sergeant) and Docket No. OAL CSV-10673-14 (15 suspension without pay).

Beyond the $747,000 payment the settlement calls for DeCosmis to retire on November 1, 2017 while being placed on terminal leave effective as of his signing of the settlement agreement as well as certain salary concessions.  In return DeCosmis will accept two letters of reprimand for the disciplinary matters pending in the Office of Administrative Law.

None of DeCosmis's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $747,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Weehawken or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Weehawken or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay DeCosmis $747,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle 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 settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.