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More intrigue behind the blue wall

By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent

NUTLEY –

Another police superior has lodged a legal beef against Mayor/Public Safety Commissioner Alphonse Petracco and the police union continues to vent its displeasure with the internal workings of the department.

Police Sgt. Christopher Lamond, a 21-year member of the force, has allleged in a lawsuit filed Oct. 15 against the township and Petracco that for the past two years, “and strictly for reasons of politics, malice, self aggrandizement and vicious intent, [he] has been subjected to ridicule, harassment, retaliation, civil rights violations and purposeful abuse ….”

And Nutley PBA Local 33 President Gerard Tusa, in a Nov. 12 letter to the township commissioners, griped that, “… here we are [following Chief John Holland’s retirement Nov. 1] … without a permanent chief and without a clear line of communication on what the command structure is in the police department.

“This has led to low morale, dysfunction within the department, and has all officers wondering what is going on and who is in charge? ….”

The verbal warfare comes on the heels of Petracco promoting Capt. Tom Strumolo to the rank of provisional police chief for what the mayor characterized as a 90-day probationary period. That move came after Strumolo had filed a notice of intent to sue, claiming that political interference by Petracco had unfairly delayed his promotion. Petracco hasn’t yet committed to calling for a state Civil Service test for chief and that’s got the union rankled.

Back in July in a letter published in The Nutley Sun, Petracco said he had begun to consider various business strategies designed to control costs in the Police Department: possibly hiring a civilian police director in place of a uniformed chief; hiring an East Hanover consultant, Sdm Protective Services, run by Newark Police Director Sam Demaio, to review the department’s Table of Organization; reaching out to state Civil Service “to make sure we are complying with all rules and regulations”; and conferring with Holland and former Chief Robert DeLitta.

Since then, Petracco has disclosed no decisions about what strategies he’d like to pursue, nor has Sdm’s recommendations yet been made public.

In his letter to the commissioners, Tusa also expressed concern about the department’s strength, noting that it “… is down to an unsafe number of 59 officers, a level that hasn’t been seen in at least 40 years.” Uncertainty about the department’s future “is a recipe for disaster ….”

Petracco, in his July letter, said he would “make myself available” to meet with the PBA to talk about transition issues. Whether that’s happened isn’t clear. Neither Petracco nor Tusa could be reached during the holiday weekend.

Meanwhile, there’s the legal complaint from Lamond, filed on his behalf by Caldwell attorney Patrick Toscano Jr.

In that 19-page document, Lamond said his troubles began on Nov. 30, 2011, at a fundraiser for Commissioner Mauro Tucci’s re-election campaign where Petracco scolded him for attending the event and that he “should not be supporting the opposing commissioners.”

On March 14, 2012, the complaint alleged, Lamond was conducting a lineup in the basement of police headquarters when he was hit in the left eye by a pink breast cancer plastic duck, allegedly thrown at him by a police superior believed to be a “close ally of Petracco.”

On April 4, 1912, the complaint alleged, Lamond and his family were at a function held at Tucci’s campaign headquarters and Petracco again told him he shouldn’t be attending functions for either Tucci or Commissioner Steven Rogers.

Sometime during July 2012, the complaint alleged, Lamond was asked by a police superior to visit Tucci to get him to vote for an ordinance proposing to create an additional captain’s position and to eliminate the deputy chief’s slot by changing the Police Department’s T.O. but Lamond refused.

A week later, the complaint alleged, Petracco directed Lamond to meet with Tucci on the proposed T.O. change planned for that fall and, despite reservations, Lamond reluctantly did so later that day, but Tucci declined to support the ordinance.

On Sept. 18, 2012, the complaint alleged, Lamond was taking a practice Civil Service promotion exam at a prep course facility in Carteret when he was approached by a police superior who urged him to visit Petracco and “keep on him” about the promotion. (Lamond had previously taken the promotional exam for lieutenant and was placed on a list of “eligibles” but the list expired this past March with no one having been promoted.)

On Sept. 25, 2012, the complaint alleged, Lamond’s wife and mother-in-law were in Petracco’s deli where his wife told Petracco that a promotion (and higher salary) for Lamond would help pay medical expenses for the couple’s oldest daughter’s lifelong illness but Petracco advised them to “go cry to Commissioner Tucci and convince him to change his vote in my favor so my guy … can move up [to captain]” and, at that point, Petracco said he would promote Strumolo to chief. Petracco asked Lamond’s mother-in-law for her full name and her work record. Later that same day, the complaint alleged, a special police officer suggested that Lamond visit Petracco at his deli, which he did, and, at the store, Petracco expressed displeasure about his relatives and asked him where his mother-in-law worked or had worked. (On Nov. 20, 2012, the Township Commission voted 3-2, with Tucci, Rogers and the Township Commission voted 3-2, with Tucci, Rogers and Thomas Evans dissenting, to reject an introduction of Petracco’s proposed T.O. amendment.)

On Jan. 3, 2013, the complaint alleged, Lamond was called at home three times by a police superior who continued to ask if Lamond had his insurance checks, which, Lamond said, he did not, but, the next morning, the same superior confronted him again on the same issue.

On Jan. 7, 2013, the complaint alleged, Lamond reported many of these incidents to the department’s Internal Affairs unit and three days later, while Lamond was at Walker Middle School to see his daughter performing in a school play, Petracco asked him if the Internal Affairs complaints “could go away” and if he would see Tucci to “pressure him” to vote for the T.O. ordinance.

On the night of Feb. 28, 2012, the complaint alleged, Lamond was about to enter the Parks & Recreation building on Park Ave. when Petracco called him from the passenger seat of a blue Ford SUV and asked him why he hadn’t been “making purchases” at his deli and “flippantly” offered to pay his daughter’s medical bills.

Lamond’s complaint demands a jury trial for alleged violations of his civil rights, based on defendants’ “politically motivated” actions, for alleged violations under the state Conscientious Employee Protection [“Whistleblower”] Act, for alleged intentional infliction of emotional distress, for alleged tortuous interference by Petracco and for alleged civil conspiracy, for alleged negligent supervision.

Lamond is seeking promotion to lieutenant, compensatory and punitive damages, interest and legal fees.

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