ROXBURY, NJ – The township agreed recently to pay $121,000 to a Rockaway Township woman to settle a federal lawsuit in which she claimed she was falsely arrested after rebuffing the sexual advances of a former Roxbury policeman.
The settlement was far less than the $2 million sought by the woman, Angela Schaeffer, in her 2015 lawsuit, filed by Sparta lawyer Jeffrey Patti. The Roxbury defendants were the township, former Roxbury Police Chief James Simonetti, former Roxbury Police Detective Richard Ricco and former Roxbury Police Patrolman Thomas Van Houten.
In the settlement, the Roxbury defendants made no admission of guilt and, in fact, said they “deny and continue to deny any liability for the claims” but agreed to the settlement “to avoid further litigation and resolve their differences.”
Roxbury Township Counsel Anthony Bucco, who did not handle the matter, said the township’s insurance company – not taxpayers – will pay the settlement beyond any insurance policy deductible, if one exists.
Schaeffer contended VanHouten sent her sexually explicit text messages, nude photos of himself and requests that she join him in threesomes. She asserted VanHouten began sending the “harassing, sexually explicit and abusive electronic and/or verbal communications” shortly after she agreed to become a confidential informant to police in Roxbury and Hopatcong.
Schaeffer’s U.S. District Court complaint alleged she was “verbally abused” by other police officers, including Ricco and Hopatcong Police Detective Ryan Tracey, during the 18 months she served as an informant.
She contended her May 9, 2014 arrest on drug related charges – a case that was dismissed by the Sussex County Prosecutor’s Office – was retribution for her complaints about the abuse.
The lawsuit named the officers, both Roxbury and Hopatcong townships, Simonetti and Hopatcong Police Chief Robert Brennan.
Schaeffer said her cooperation “resulted in several drug related arrests and prosecutions.” Schaeffer reported to and was supervised by Ricco and Tracey, said the lawsuit. It said she also reported to Van Houten, providing much of her confidential informant (CI) information through her cellphone.
“Commencing after the inception of the CI agreement but before the May 9, 2014 false arrest, Van Houten sent sexually explicit text messages and forwarded nude images of him to Schaeffer and overtly and repeatedly pressured Schaeffer into sexual liaisons and threesomes with him and another woman and/or women,” said the lawsuit. “Schaeffer has retained many of the electronic communications directed towards her by Defendants including nude photographs forwarded to her by Van Houten.”
Schaeffer asserted she “rebuffed” the advances and “began complaining about the abhorrent treatment directed towards her.” Doing so, she said, resulted in retaliation.
“Consequently, defendants purposefully and with malice disclosed her identity to the various individuals she aided in the investigation and prosecution, thereby placing her and her family in extreme danger,” contended the complaint.
Knowing Schaeffer’s phone “retained incriminating electronic communications,” Ricco and Tracey “fabricated evidence, trumped up false criminal accusations and charges and falsely and maliciously arrested Schaeffer on May 9, 2014 at her place of employment during business hours causing Schaeffer great humiliation and embarrassment,” said the lawsuit.
It said Ricco and Tracey took Schaeffer’s cellphone during the arrest and “erased evidence that incriminated them and Van Houten … with regard to their abuse and mistreatment of Schaeffer during the CI engagement.”
After she was arrested, Schaeffer “was subjected to severe and humiliating verbal abuse” by Hopatcong detectives, says the complaint. It alleges Ricco told Schaeffer, “You should have shot yourself and put yourself out of your misery,” and contends Tracey repeatedly equated Schaeffer with excrement, called her “scum of the Earth” and suggested she overdose.
Schaeffer spent a week in jail before being freed on bail, said her complaint, noting the charges were administratively dismissed by the prosecutor’s office a month later.
Van Houten resigned after an internal affairs investigation was conducted, the lawsuit said.