"Welcome Sign for South Bound Brook" by robotbrainz is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
"Welcome Sign for South Bound Brook" by robotbrainz is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

On March 24, 2021, the Borough of South Bound Brook (Somerset County) agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former police officer and Purple Heart recipient who claimed that Borough officials retaliated against him for filing an internal affairs complaint against the police chief and discriminated against him for having PTSD from a combat injury he received in Iraq.

In his lawsuit, Kevin J. Klink claimed that when he became a Borough police officer in 2007, he disclosed to Borough officials that he had previously been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following his Marine Corps tour of duty in Iraq. According to his lawsuit, Klink’s PTSD and a related Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) arose out of a 2004 injury caused by an improvised explosive device explosion that resulted in his honorable discharge and being awarded a Purple Heart.

Despite his PTSD, Klink claimed that after he became “somewhat frustrated about his performance on the shooting range,” former Police Chief William King told him that “if you put the gun in your mouth, you wouldn’t miss” even though King knew Klink suffered from PTSD and that it was “well-known and well-established that individuals suffering from PTSD attempt and commit suicide at a rate that is far higher than the general population of the United States.” Klink also claimed that King belittled him by calling him “Private Pyle” asking him “What kind of Marine are you?”

According to the lawsuit, King’s comments troubled Klink and motivated him to file a formal internal affairs complaint against King with Lieutenant Jeffrey Titus who headed the internal affairs unit in 2015. Klink alleged that the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, after investigating his complaint, “sent a letter to Borough Administrator [Donald] Kazar identifying various alleged conduct on the part of Chief King.” According to the lawsuit, Kazar, who oversaw police discipline, “took no action whatsoever to address or remediate Chief King’s alleged conduct.”

After King’s atypical 2015 retirement, Titus became the Chief of Police. Klink said that he applied to Titus to join the department’s SWAT Team and that he had passed all the necessary agility and firearms training. He said that he was later disqualified from serving on the SWAT Team because of the outcome of his psychological evaluation.

According to the lawsuit, when Klink told Titus that he was upset about the evaluation and requested paid leave, Titus told him “don’t even try to pull that bullshit,” that it was “not the end of the world” and “don’t kill yourself.”

The following month, Titus ordered Klink to take another Fitness for Duty Examination with a different psychiatrist. Following that evaluation, “Klink was suspended with pay from [the police department] on or about July 25, 2017” and charged by Titus and Kazar with being unfit for duty, according to the lawsuit. Under a settlement allegedly reached, The Borough would dismiss the disciplinary charge if Klink would apply for a disability pension with the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS).

According to the lawsuit, the settlement agreement provided that if Klink did not apply for disability retirement, “the Borough would reinstitute the disciplinary charges against [him] and seek to terminate him for cause.” Klink claimed that Kazar, despite several requests, refused to provide the PFRS with information it needs to process his retirement application thus “forc[ing] Klink into an impossible situation.”

Of the $100,000 settlement, Klink received $64,930.16 and his lawyer received the remaining $35,069.84. Klink also agreed to never seek future employment with the Borough.

The case is captioned Kevin J. Klink v. Borough of South Bound Brook, et al, Docket No. SOM-L-494-18 and Klink’s attorney was Nicholas P. Milewski of Iselin. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, under which Klink agreed to “keep all aspects of the contents of his agreement, including its negotiation, confidential.” The agreement goes on to say that “this Agreement is of the utmost concern to the Borough and that the Borough would not have entered into this Agreement without his promise to keep this Agreement confidential.” 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 or officials named in the lawsuit. All that is known for sure is that South Bound Brook or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Klink $100,000 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.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]