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NJ Civil Settlements

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.

By John Paff

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project