Friday, August 12, 2016

New police chief has two confidential settlements in his past.

A recently installed police chief in Burlington County has two confidential settlement agreements in his past.  One agreement, entered into in 2005, reversed his firing by another Burlington County police agency and paid him $20,000.  The other, entered into in 2006, settled a female police dispatcher's sexual harassment and retaliation claim against the chief and others in exchange for $300,000.

On June 6, 2016, Theodore Budd Wells was installed as police chief in North Hanover Township at an annual salary of $80,000.  According to Wells' resume, he has worked as a police officer in North Hanover since April 2006 and as a Detective Sergeant since April 2015.  Prior to North Hanover, Wells worked as a police officer for Medford Township from 1990 to August of 2004.

According to an April 11, 2005 confidential settlement agreement, Wells had been terminated from his position with Medford on August 16, 2004 due to a "local conviction" on unspecified disciplinary charges.  Wells had appealed his termination in Superior Court and, in order to settle that lawsuit, Medford agreed to regard Wells' separation from employment as a "resignation in good standing," to dismiss all disciplinary charges against him, provide his future prospective employees with a "neutral employment reference" and to pay him $20,000.  Wells had agreed to "keep the terms, amounts and fact of this Agreement completely confidential."  The agreement, which says that it was made "without an admission of liability or wrongdoing by either party" was entered into because of "the cost and uncertainty of litigation."

The second confidential settlement agreement that involved Wells resolved a September 12, 2003 sexual harassment and workplace retaliation lawsuit brought by former Medford Police Dispatcher Nicole Hoffman.  The settlement, approved by the Medford Township Council on January 24, 2006, called for Hoffman to receive $300,000 from Medford and the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office and contained a provision that prohibited Hoffman from divulging "the existence or terms of this Agreement or the negotiations leading to this Agreement, or to further divulge or disclose the allegations in the Complaint or Amended Complaints in this litigation."

In her lawsuit, Hoffman claimed that the police department's "sexually hostile work environment . . . was well known to the management and supervisors of the police force" and that "it was common knowledge that several, but not all, of the officers had engaged in sexual conduct while on duty, and in the police station and in patrol cars."  Hoffman claimed that Wells, then a corporal on the Medford force, "made sexual advances and overtures toward" her and would constantly refer to her as "hottie" or "sexy" instead of her name and told her that "she 'looked good' in her uniform."  Wells allegedly tried to unbutton Hoffman's pants while both were on duty on December 11, 2002.

Hoffman claimed that another superior officer told her she was an "ignorant slut" and he would not set her up for a date because she "did not put out."  Hoffman said that she reported this conduct to Lieutenant Kathleen Jenkins, who served as Medford's internal affairs officer, but nothing was done and that one of her alleged abusers was promoted.  She claimed that then Chief Edwin E. Wood, Captain James Kehoe, Burlington County Assistant Prosecutor James J. Gerrow, Jr. and Executive Assistant Prosecutor Debra Leitenberger failed to follow the New Jersey Attorney General's Internal Affairs Policy and Procedures and instead treated her "as a suspect in a crime" and subjected her to "intimidating interrogation" including having her take a polygraph test. Hoffman's lawsuit claimed that "the real police policy being employed in Burlington County and in Medford Township in particular is to dissuade internal affairs complainants from coming forward with complaints of police misconduct."

Hoffman claimed that on August 26, 2003, Chief Wood and Captain Kehoe read to her what they called a "target letter" from the Prosecutor's office that was addressed to her but, according to Hoffman, was intercepted by Wood, Kehoe and/or others.  She said that she was then given a memo that suspended her "pending subsequent criminal legal actions by the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office relative to the criminal investigation of the December 11, 2002 incident involving Cpl Theodore Wells and yourself."  Hoffman said that there was no basis for any criminal charges against her and that "Gerrow, Leitenberger, Wood, Kehoe and Jensen, all conspired to use the threat of criminal prosecution contained in the target letter to force [her] to give up any claim she had for sexual harassment, and any other claim."

Hoffman's lawsuit's allegations have not been proven and there is no evidence that Chief Wells or anyone else engaged in any wrongdoing.