On November 28, 2021, the City of Bridgeton (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a local waitress who said that a city police sergeant repeatedly sexually harassed and intimidated her and also “physically groped and touched [her] private body parts” when he visited the restaurant where she worked during a two-week period in October and November 2016.

In her complaint, Alexandra Ficcadenti of Vineland said that Sergeant Luis Santiago entered Café Antonio’s on Buckshutem Road on “numerous occasions” and sexually harassed her. She claimed that Santiago persisted in his advances despite her telling him that she wanted his “offensive, invasive, intimidating and uncomfortable” behavior to stop.

Ficcadenti claimed that she reported Santiago to the Bridgeton Police Department on several occasions and that Santiago was ultimately arrested for his behavior on November 11, 2016. According to a August 7, 2017 NJ Advance Media article “Aggressive’ cop sued twice, now indicted for sexual contact, misconduct,” by Chris Franklin, Santiago, 44 at the time, was indicted on “two separate counts of fourth-degree criminal sexual contact and one count of second-degree official misconduct.” A subsequent NJ Advance Media article, “N.J. cop gets a year of probation, quits force after admitting he groped waitress,” August 8, 2019, by Matt Gray, reported that Santiago was permitted to plead guilty to harassment, a downgraded petty disorderly persons offense, and agreed to forfeit public employment. According to the article, Santiago was sentenced to a year of probation and was ordered to have no future contact with Ficcadenti and two other, unnamed victims.

This isn’t the first lawsuit filed against Santiago. In 2017, the City paid $550,000 to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by five female City employees. According to the women’s lawsuit, Santiago “undertook a campaign of retaliation” against them after they reported his twin brother, Angel Santiago, also a City police officer, for subjecting them to “a plethora of unwanted sexual harassment” including pretending that “[Angel Santiago] was fixing something underneath their desks and subsequently pushing his penis [which he called ‘Captain Hook’] on them after making them stand up out of their chairs.”

Also, the above-cited August 7, 2017 news article reported that Santiago was sued by Lisa Money of Bridgeton for allegedly becoming overly aggressive when she questioned Santiago and two other officers while they were arresting her minor son. She claimed that Santiago threw her to the ground, twisted her arm and pushed her head to the ground.” According to a June 17, 2019 NJ Advance Media article, “Judge issues ultimatum in case of cop charged with groping waitress,” by Matt Gray, the City settled Money’s lawsuit in 2018 by paying her $105,000.

The case is captioned Ficcadenti v. Luis Santiago, et al, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-772-18 and Ficcadenti’s attorney was Anthony Granato of Marlton. It and the settlement are on-line here.

Ficcadenti’s release contains a confidentiality clause, which requires her to “keep the terms of the settlement 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 Ficcadenti’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court, although the above-cited August 8, 2019 news article reports that Santiago admitted in court that “he touched a waitress’ buttocks.” 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 Bridgeton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ficcadenti $100,000 than take the matter to 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 paff@pobox.com