WILDWOOD — Police Chief Steven Long is suing Mayor Gary DeMarzo and the city, charging that DeMarzo continually interferes with the operations of the 39-member department.
Morristown-based attorney Damian Shammas, representing Long, said Tuesday that his client wants the city and DeMarzo to abide by the law.
“He’s overstepped his bounds and he’s not allowed to interfere with the daily operations,” said Shammas, adding that no court date has yet been set in the case.
“We just want the court to stop Mayor DeMarzo. He’s out of control,” Shammas said.
The lawsuit alleges that, on Aug. 16, when DeMarzo took over as head of public safety, he “embarked on a crusade to interfere with Chief Long’s ability to manage the day-to-day operations of the Police Department and trample upon his rights and authority under the Police Chiefs’ Bill of Rights.”
State law, which establishes rules for New Jersey’s municipal police departments, provides that the chief of police “shall be the head of the police force and that he shall be directly responsible to the appropriate authority for the efficiency and routine day-to-day operations.”
The law goes on to state, among other things, that the chief shall “administer and enforce rules and regulations and special emergency directives for the disposition and discipline of the force and its officers and personnel” and “prescribe the duties and assignments of all subordinates and other personnel.”
Long argues that DeMarzo has continually questioned his decisions and interfered with the disciplinary process, scheduling and other aspects of the department.
DeMarzo, on Tuesday afternoon, said he had not yet seen Long’s lawsuit, but he said he started to see a pattern given other recent lawsuits filed by city employees.
“They all have a continuing theme of change. It is very difficult for these people to be forced to a level of accountability,” DeMarzo said.
DeMarzo said the litigation has followed changes he and his fellow commissioners have made in the city.
“They have difficulty coming to grips with reality, a new economy,” DeMarzo said. “The days of 11 percent increases and no one asking questions ... are over.”
Long, chief here since 2007, was once DeMarzo’s supervisor, but DeMarzo, a police officer in Wildwood since 1998, resigned from the department in May following a court order that required him to choose whether he wanted to stay on the commission or remain a police officer.
Shortly after resigning, he was named head of public safety in a 2-1 vote by City Commission.
In the lawsuit, Long supplies a long list of dates when he says DeMarzo interfered with his role as head of the department.
He points to an Aug. 23 request when DeMarzo started asking for daily activity logs, known as pass-on reports, but Long would not supply them because they contained “confidential and sensitive investigative information.”
Then, on Aug. 25, Long says DeMarzo told him to “adjust Deputy Chief Cooper’s office schedule” after speaking directly with Cooper. Long responded that DeMarzo should respect the chain of command and that Long would make decisions regarding scheduling.
The lawsuit also highlights Aug. 29 when “DeMarzo requested that Chief Long procure a retirement badge from the department for him.” Long refused because he said DeMarzo resigned and was not entitled to the badge. In the lawsuit, Long says he met with DeMarzo, the prosecutor and county chief of detectives on Sept. 15 about the badge issue and other matters. “After a short discussion in which the prosecutor told DeMarzo that he was not entitled to a retirement badge, DeMarzo became irate and stormed out of the meeting,” the lawsuit alleges.
Along the way, Long sent letters to Cape May County Prosecutor Robert Taylor asking Taylor to stop DeMarzo’s interventions.
The prosecutor told Long not to supply DeMarzo with the pass-on reports.
Long also cites another instance, on Sept. 11, when he told DeMarzo to leave the median between Oak and Wildwood avenues “because no civilians were permitted at that location” during the Roar to the Shore motorcycle rally for safety reasons given the crowds at the event.
Long said DeMarzo sent him an e-mail charging that Long’s directive constituted “insubordination and very serious breach of discipline towards me.”
That incident led to a series of memos about Long’s “No Civilians Directive.”
Long also points to a decision to rehire a patrolman despite Long’s belief that the officer was not fit for duty, had previously had disciplinary charges pending against him and needed retraining. Long also said there was “no money in the budget for his return.”
In the lawsuit, Long says DeMarzo admitted the position was not budgeted, but “nevertheless, DeMarzo ramrodded this appointment through based on his self-described ‘empowerment’ as the appointing authority.”
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