On December 19, 2022, the Borough of Oaklyn (Camden County) quietly paid $250,000 to a Borough police officer who claimed that he suffered retaliation after he reported “payroll irregularities” and reported the police chief for allegedly using on-duty officers as chauffeurs when the chief was too drunk to drive himself home from bars.
In his lawsuit, Bret Mueller, who has served as an Oaklyn police officer since 2004, claimed that in 2016 then police chief Marquis Moore repeatedly ordered on-duty officers to use their patrol cars to pick up him and his friends at a bar outside of Oaklyn “on evenings when Moore was intoxicated and unable to drive himself home.”
Mueller and his father reported Moore for this and other alleged infractions such as accepting free services from a Borough vendor and “drinking in bars in the company of individuals that Moore knew to be under-aged,” according to the lawsuit. Mueller claimed that Moore was suspended for nine days as a result of the complaint.
Mueller also claimed that in 2018 he discovered that some officers who had been hired to work for outside contractors “had double-dipped and been paid by the Department too.” Mueller alleged that Moore and Lieutenant Craig Stauts were the ones who “primarily benefited” from this “Double-Dipping Scheme” which went on for a sixteen-month period until Mueller reported it to the Camden County Prosecutor and the New Jersey Attorney General. Mueller said that he decided to report the matter outside the department because Moore and Mayor Robert Forbes “had previously showed hostility towards whistleblowers, specifically Officer Mueller when he had his father file a complaint against Chief Moore in 2016.”
After making his 2016 complaint, Mueller claimed that he was subjected to retaliation, such as cancellation of the National Night Out event that Mueller claimed to have initiated. After his 2018 complaint, Mueller said that the retaliation against him escalated. He claimed that he was skipped over for promotion, denied overtime and off-duty assignments and demoted from his role as Training Officer. He also claimed that Chief Moore brought unfounded disciplinary charges against him and gave him punitive assignments, such as patrolling the parking lot for smokers.
Chief Moore told Borough Council members that Officer Mueller was the reason that Oaklyn Police Department had been suffering high amounts of turn over, according to the complaint. Mueller also alleged that Moore and Stauts alienated other officers from him and forced them to “‘choose sides’ between Officer Mueller on the bad side or Chief Moore and Lt. Stauts on the good side.”
According to Oaklyn’s response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, Moore retired from the department on December 31, 2021 with an annual salary of $117,299. According to the same response, Mueller and Stauts still work for the department at an annual salary of $95,988.57 and $110,058.42, respectively. While Mueller is still employed with the Borough, he is not reporting to work. Rather he is using his accrued time off according to the Borough’s response to an OPRA request.
Of the $250,000 settlement, Mueller received $164,068.47 and his lawyers received $85,931.53.
The case is captioned Mueller v. Oaklyn, Federal Case No. 1:19-cv-16694 and Mueller’s attorneys were Robert C. Drake and Benjamin Speciale of Philadelphia and Brian E. Kasper of Lawrenceville. The civil lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.
The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, under which Mueller agreed that the settlement and its terms and amounts be kept 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 employees or officials named in the lawsuit. Mueller’s allegations are just that–allegations. All that is known for sure is that Oaklyn or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Mueller $250,000 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.