ATLANTIC CITY — Former Atlantic City Business Administrator Michael Scott took the witness stand Friday in what has been a contentious week of testimony in the civil trial involving former police Chief John Mooney.
On Friday, Scott, who retired from the city last year, began to describe his growing concern in 2009 over the handling of the Police Department’s K-9 unit. He said he was alarmed by a number of verbal complaints and believed the dogs were biting repeatedly, rather than biting and holding, when he told Mooney to discontinue the use of the dogs.
The handling of the city’s K-9 unit is just one of many issues that have been rehashed in the past two weeks of testimony. The case has touched on such a range of topics and arguments that Superior Court Judge Nelson Johnson told the attorneys earlier this week that each attorney has tried to make the case about a different issue.
In the past week alone, the courtroom has heard suggestions that Mooney tried to falsify an Internal Affairs investigation, questions about Mayor Lorenzo Langford’s decisions to hire convicted felons and testimony about possibly politically fueled investigations into sexual misconduct.
Some of the most surprising testimony came from former Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted Housel, who said Langford’s discussions with known drug dealers at the scene of drug-related double homicide were concerning enough that he had the mayor photographed.
What all of those alleged incidents might have to do with each other has been the subject of complex arguments. Mooney’s attorney, John Donnelly, has been trying to show Mooney objected to several issues with the city, painting him as a thorn in the administration’s side.
The defense has argued that, in some cases, Mooney never engaged in any whistle-blowing activity, and the decision to demote him was based on the city’s financial outlook. The defense has also made issue of Mooney’s performance as chief, in one instance questioning some of his decisions regarding the K-9 unit.
Facing what he believes was a politically fueled demotion in 2010, Mooney retired as police chief. He then sued the city, Langford and former Public Safety Director Christine Petersen, alleging he was targeted for a demotion because he had been a whistle-blower.
The pending outcome of the case has potential financial and managerial consequences for the city.
A judge previously ruled that Mooney’s contract was violated; the eight-member jury now has to decide if Mooney is entitled to money from his claim. He also is seeking reinstatement as police chief.
Scott’s testimony is expected to continue Monday, but not before an evidence hearing that the jury will not be privy to.
The defense wants to show the jury three large photos of wounds that a police dog allegedly inflicted on Atlantic City resident Michael Peoples. The case was settled in 2009; no details were provided in court on Friday. Donnelly has argued against the introduction of the photos, saying it would not be clear under what circumstances the wounds were inflicted.
Robert Tarver, a former city solicitor and Langford’s attorney, said the photos were among the the evidence Scott was considering when he told Mooney to remove the dogs from the streets. They also speak to Scott’s state of mind at the time, Tarver said.
The Press of Atlantic City archives show that Peoples claimed he was attacked in his Oriental Avenue home in 2006 by a police dog in the presence of four or five officers. His attorney, Lewis April, said the extensive wounds would result in a loss of function to his body and “horrible scarring.”
Petersen and Langford are expected to testify in the coming week.
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