Law & Justice

Caldwell Lieutenant Files Civil Lawsuit Against Borough and Police Chief

CALDWELL, NJ — A year after filing a notice of intent to sue both the Borough of Caldwell and Police Chief James Bongiorno, Caldwell Police Lt. Michael Geary has filed an official complaint for “acts of discrimination and retaliation” by the chief among other wrongful actions.

The civil complaint was filed with the court on July 14 and was officially served to the borough and the chief on Thursday, Aug. 10, according to Geary’s attorney, Patrick Toscano. The decision to file comes amidst an ongoing legal battle between the three parties, in which Lt. Geary was found guilty of insubordination and conduct unbecoming of a superior officer in June after the chief and Detective Sgt. Brad Palatucci testified against him for being insubordinate to a direct order related to an incident that occurred in August 2016.

“It is both unfortunate and bemusing that Caldwell has determined that spending tens of thousands of dollars defending what we believe will eventually be shown is an indefensible lawsuit is the proper road to follow,” said Toscano. “Instead of meeting and attempting in good faith to amicably settle the Lieutenant's more than valid claims, Caldwell has precipitously and with unmitigated hubris opted to litigate.

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“That having been said, it is axiomatic to say that one cannot shake hands with a clenched fist. Therefore, the Lieutenant will do what he has to do, and is looking forward to revealing his side of the story.”

Geary’s original intent to sue cited wrongful acts initiated against him by Bongiorno, including psychological damage due to “constant workplace harassment, ethnic slurs, hostile work environment and retaliatory actions,” as well as damage to his personal and professional reputation, according to the lieutenant. (See story HERE.)

The official complaint also includes a claim by Geary that Bongiorno threatened layoffs if officers did not write more summonses, knowing that ticket quotas are illegal in the State of New Jersey. The complaint also cites details of the internal affairs investigation of Geary as evidence of the chief’s “intimidation tactics.”

(See coverage of the February public hearing by clicking HERE and further details of the internal affairs investigation HERE.)

In June, after Hearing Officer and South Brunswick Police Chief Raymond Hayducka found Geary guilty of the charges filed against him, Geary announced that he would move forward with the civil lawsuit. He stated at the time that he believed the charges against him were served in retaliation for his filing the notice of intent to sue the chief and the borough in August 2016.

As the lieutenant is the third-ranking member in the Caldwell Police Department, the borough sought a 36-hour suspension of the lieutenant as a penalty for being disobedient to the chief later the same month. In Hayducka’s final analysis of evidence in June, he concluded that Geary was “clearly insubordinate” to the chief’s order to surrender his department-issued badge, identification and key fob.

At the time, Toscano said there was good cause to believe that Hayducka is a member of the same organization that Bongiorno belongs to—The New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police (NJSACOP)—and that the two might have “known one another for years prior to the hearing officer’s hiring by Caldwell.” As this was unknown prior to the decision/ruling in the internal affairs trial, Toscano said it was “beyond cavil to state that the hearing officer had a clear conflict/appearance of impropriety, and should have never accepted this assignment from Caldwell.

According to Toscano, Geary is now demanding a trial by jury. 

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