Monday, February 1, 2016

Waterford confidentially pays $300,000 to former police sergeant and allows him to resign "due to medical reasons."

On November 9, 2015, the Township of Waterford (Camden County) agreed to pay $300,000 to resolve a lawsuit filed by a former police sergeant who claimed that the former mayor and other township officials retaliated against him because he had ticketed the mayor's son and complained about "illegal actions at the police department."  In addition to the $300,000, the Township agreed to cooperate in the former sergeant's pursuit of an accident disability pension and "secure correspondence from the Office of the Camden County Prosecutor stating that the Camden County Prosecutor is not taking any action on a complaint" against him.

In his 227-page, sixty-seven count amended complaint, Joseph McNally said that former Mayor Maryann Merlino was angry because on June 10, 2010 McNally issued a traffic summons to her son and refused her request--which he felt was illegal--to drop the charge.  McNally also said that he spoke out about "other acts that he believed were illegal as well."  As an example, McNally said that present police chief (then lieutenant) Dan Cormaney leaked a plan to conduct an improper motor vehicle stop on a resident named Ron Passarella several days before the stop actually occurred.

McNally claimed that Cormaney and former police chief Jack Knoll conspired to suspend him without pay on March 29, 2012, based on his "alleged March 16, 2012 encounter with a person named Tracy Miller (also known as Tracey Miller) at a bar called Sharkey's "even though they knew that McNally did not do anything wrong."  (On July 21, 2014, Waterford agreed to pay $260,000 to settle Miller's and his family's suit which claimed that McNally harassed them and that other officers unlawfully arrested and used excessive force against them.)

Among the litany of charges McNally leveled was a claim that Merlino, Knoll and Cormaney sought to require him to get a psychological test before being allowed to return to active duty.  He claimed that he was being singled out for special treatment because "Lieutenant Dan Chiumento was suspended for over two (2) years due to allegations that he was having sex in his squad car while on duty" but was not required to get a psychological test before being allowed to return.

He also claimed that charges were brought against him on August 5, 2014 for being the creator of the "T-Party Waterford," Facebook page which exposed alleged wrongdoing in Waterford, even though the Defendants knew in or around June 2012 that McNally was not the creator of that page.

The case is captioned McNally v. Township of Waterford, et al, Camden County Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-1400-13 and McNally's attorney was Leo B. Dubler, III 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 McNally's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $300,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Waterford or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Waterford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay McNally $300,000 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.