Harassment of whistleblowers leads to million-dollar bills for taxpayers.
This is a part of “Protecting The Shield” – a two-year Asbury Park Press investigation that probes gaps in police accountability, which can harm citizens and cost New Jersey taxpayers millions of dollars. Read our complete investigative series
When police officers stand up to wrongdoing by other cops, the results can lead to upstanding officers being punished by their departments for daring to break what appellate judges in one case recently called the “‘blue wall’ of police silence.”
In turn, whistleblowing officers and those subject to internal harassment seek relief through lawsuits which can prompt towns to make secret settlements that can add up to more than $1 million. Some of the most significant whistleblower payouts identified by the Asbury Park Press include:
- $1.4 million — A jury awarded the amount in 2017 to a former Hamburg officer who claimed he was retaliated against for not dismissing a parking ticket.
- $650,000 — Egg Harbor Township settled with Patrolman Christopher Mozitis, who claimed that after he reported officers cheating on an exam to try out for sergeant, he was retaliated against. Mozitis claimed he was threatened with assault, including the claim another officer would “kick” Mozitis’ “ass” when Mozitis pointed out that the other officer wasn’t pursuing Mozitis’ grievance. The township did not admit any wrongdoing in the settlement.
- $660,000 — The amount was awarded through two settlements of $330,000 in 2014 to two female Neptune Township officers who alleged sexual harassment. One of the officers, Elena Gonzalez, citing continued harassment, resigned in 2017 in front of the Township Committee after airing her grievances. The township has denied any wrongdoing. You can see her emotional statement in the video below.
- $1.5 million — A jury awarded this sum in 2017 to a West Long Branch police sergeant, Marlowe Botti, who claimed she was denied a promotion and treated unfairly because she is a woman.
Elena Gonzalez resigned from the police department, after saying she was repeatedly subjected to sexual harassment and discrimination. Austin Bogues, staff
Retaliation “sends a chilling message to the rest of the agency: toe the line and keep your mouth shut,” said former police officer and internal affairs expert Richard Rivera.
Rivera was fired from the West New York Police Department shortly after going undercover for the FBI in the mid-1990s. He helped expose officers who were taking kickbacks to protect illegal gambling operations, prostitution rings and other rackets. He recounts his undercover work in the video with this story.
He sued, claiming retaliation, and was reinstated long enough to retire. He also received a $650,000 settlement.
Until recently in Tinton Falls, the borough government and the police department were headed by members of two tightly-knit families. In a pair of lawsuits, the town paid a total of $1.1 million to two police officers in 2015 and 2017 who claimed they were harassed after blowing the whistle on a fellow cop they accused of “illegally” siphoning municipal water for his home. One complaining officer resigned.The other remains a Tinton Falls police officer.
A panel of appellate judges who reviewed the case said some of the conduct alleged in one of the lawsuits “smacks of perpetrating an illegal police cover up.”
Gerald Turning Sr., who was police chief at the time of the 2008 claim, served as mayor of the borough when the settlements were made.
Richard Rivera, a former West New York officer, went undercover with the FBI in the mid-1990s to help weed out corruption among the department’s cops. Now, after being pushed out of his job, he’s an internal affairs expert. Ryan Ross | Kala Kachmar
The conduct of his son, Sgt. Gerald Turning Jr., was described by the appellate judges as allegedly being part of the “cover up.” Turning Jr. was later promoted to captain.
Sgt. David Scrivanic, who was alleged to have “diverted” the municipal water, was also later promoted to captain. No criminal charges were filed.
John Scrivanic, David’s brother, became chief of the department. The township and officers, through court documents, denied any wrongdoing.
An earlier investigation by the Press exposed the payouts that led to Turning Sr. losing re-election for mayor in November 2017.
Vito Perillo wins Tinton Falls mayoral election at age 93 Brian Johnston
Vito Perillo, a 93-year-old World War II vet, outraged by news of the settlements, campaigned against Turning, defeating him 53 percent to 47 percent. After the victory, Perillo spoke against nepotism and took a stand for government transparency. You can watch the 93-year-old victor tell his story in the video above.
“I think the public should know what’s going on, period,” he said. “If there’s something important that’s going on, they should be aware of it.”
Asbury Park Press reporters dug into more than 30,000 public records for two years to produce “Protecting The Shield.” These same journalists report daily as watchdogs in the public interest: examining tax spending, exposing wrongdoing, highlighting advances and often inspiring change that makes New Jersey a better place to live. Follow their work at APP.com and support local journalism today.