Allegations of an illegal investigation involving potential sexual misconduct by Atlantic City firefighters were rehashed Monday when former Atlantic City Police Chief John Mooney took the stand in a civil trial against his former employer.
Those allegations were soon followed by claims that Mayor Lorenzo Langford’s administration improperly tried to access to the Police Department’s internal affairs documents involving K-9 use of force as the city sought to remove the dogs from the streets.
Questioning Monday surrounded events from 2009 as Mooney’s attorney, John Donnelly, attempted to show that the former police chief had engaged in “whistleblowing” acts against the city, thus leaving him targeted for a demotion the following year. Mooney is seeking more than $435,000 in financial compensation as well as reinstatement to the Police Department.
A heated courtroom disagreement ensued Monday morning shortly after Donnelly began a line of questioning involving a 2009 investigation of the Atlantic City Fire Department. The Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation following accusations by teenage girls that they’d had sexual encounters with firefighters inside an Atlantic City firehouse. That investigation was followed by a separate probe led by the city.
Mooney testified that he found out about the allegations through media reports based on the Langford administration’s comments to The Press of Atlantic City. He said he later believed that confidential information may have been leaked to the mayor’s office.
Objections were raised by the city’s legal counsel as soon as the questioning began. Jurors were sent to an early recess as Superior Court Judge Nelson Johnson and attorneys from both sides of the case discussed the relevance of the sexual allegations to Mooney’s case.
William Lundsten, an attorney for the city, argued that Mooney did not meet the criteria of a whistleblowing complaint.
“Several authorities have the right to undertake a review of what’s going on,” Lundsten said, also arguing that Langford’s probe was permissible.
“(Mooney) knows it’s illegal; (former Atlantic County Prosecutor Ted) Housel knows it’s illegal. You don’t have to write it out on a brief,” Donnelly said in response.
Johnson took issue with Donnelly’s request that the former chief be questioned about Langford’s administrative investigation led by city attorney Yolanda Laney, who is not among the 40 potential witnesses in the case. The judge said the facts being discussed in public session but away from the jury were interesting, but that doesn’t necessarily make them suitable testimony.
“When you have an incident involving uniformed people and underage ladies and you have the Atlantic City Police Department learning about it from the Atlantic City Press, that’s not the best scenario. It really isn’t,” Johnson said.
Only questioning that related to the incident but did not involve Laney was allowed as a result.
News of the investigation was first made public in July 2009 when Langford’s then-spokesman Kevin Hall told The Press of Atlantic City of the alleged sexual activity at the firehouse. The mayor then went on to tell The Press that the Atlantic County Prosector’s Office was investigating. As a policy, that office does not confirm or deny investigations. Meanwhile, the city’s fire and police departments learned of the probe through the media as Langford promised the city would conduct its own investigation in addition to the prosecutor’s investigation.
Housel’s investigation found the case would not produce criminal charges, in part because the sexual actions were consensual and the girls involved were all at least 16 years old at the time — the age of consent in New Jersey. Later that year, Superior Court Judge Valerie Armstrong dismissed separate administrative complaints filed by the city against the firefighters, saying the city had mishandled the case in several ways. She said the city pursued internal interviews with employees before their departmental hearings.
In separate issue Monday, Mooney also discussed Langford’s decision to remove K-9s from patrol in 2009. At the time, the city said it had received a number of complaints about the dogs’ use of force.
Mooney said former Business Administrator Michael Scott asked him to provide internal affairs documents regarding dog bites that he believed to be confidential. He sought Housel’s opinion on matters related to the dogs, a fact that he believes angered the Langford administration.
“Since you have taken it upon yourself to ignore my instruction regarding the K-9 unit, it is my considered opinion that you are acting outside the scope of your employment,” Scott wrote in an Aug. 18, 2009, memo to Mooney.
Scott went on to say that should any civil litigation be filed against the city regarding the K-9’s use of force, Mooney would not be defended by the city.
“I did not want to fight with the administration. … I wanted to be the police chief all my life,” Mooney said.
Other incidents were also referred to Monday as Donnelly attempted to show that Mooney had a pattern of “whistleblowing” against the Langford administration. Donnelly, referred to a Feb. 5, 2009, memo from the former chief to Langford that expressed concern over the mayor’s decision to hire Daniel Smith, a convicted felon, as a uniformed crossing guard in the Police Department.
The job gave Smith access to areas were confidential police records were kept.
“I understand giving people a second chance … but when it comes down to police work … you can’t have felons working inside the police department,” Mooney said.
Smith was eventually terminated by the city.
Mooney will continue his testimony today in Superior Court.
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