MILLVILLE — A trio of local law-enforcement officers have stung the Police Department in the past year and a half with allegations that would indicate the agency is in turmoil.
The officers allege everything in their Superior Court lawsuits from unwarranted disciplinary action to ticket-fixing on behalf of senior staff.
Perhaps the most serious allegations are contained in a lawsuit filed recently by Detective Jeremy Miller, who charges that some Police Department detectives have closed burglary, robbery, sexual assault, shooting and aggravated assault cases before investigations into those crimes were complete.
City officials contend the lawsuits contain only allegations of improper action.
However, City Commission in July agreed to pay $65,000 in legal fees to the attorney representing Patrolman Edmund Ansara in his lawsuit. The commission found that Ansara was disciplined under departmental charges that were ultimately found to be unsustainable.
Police Chief Thomas Haas did not respond to a request by The Press of Atlantic City for comment regarding the lawsuits and whether the allegations contained in those lawsuits are damaging public confidence in his department.
Mayor Michael Santiago said he was told by city legal staff not to comment on the lawsuits. Santiago, who took office in January, is a former local police officer who serves as City Commission’s public safety director.
Former Commissioner David Vanaman, who served as public safety director before Santiago, said he is certain the lawsuits are affecting the public’s perception of the Police Department.
“And it’s not good,” Vanaman said.
While Vanaman would not comment directly about the lawsuits and their impact on local law-enforcement efforts, he said there are “many good officers in the Millville Police Department.” He also said that a review of the Police Department performed several months ago resulted in “no negative reports.” He would provide no additional information about the review.
“I’ve said more than I should,” he said.
Miller is represented by Northfield attorney Michelle Douglass, who said she has handled many cases involving police departments in more than two decades of practicing law. One thread that runs through the lawsuits seems to be a lack of management training on behalf of upper-level officers who handle disciplinary matters, she said.
“Discipline should be for teaching,” Douglass said. “Not in a police department. Discipline is totally viewed as punishment. These supervisors throw the book at police officers, charging them with everything under the sun.”
“It’s my way or the highway,” she said. “There is a power control element from the higher-ups that causes resentment a lot of times. Oftentimes, it’s abused.”
Douglass said the result is often a “fiercely scorched-earth kind of legal action.”
Santiago disagrees, saying police officers do undergo supervisory training. He would not comment further on that issue.
Along with the lawsuits filed by Ansara and Miller, the Police Department is defending itself against legal action taken by Lt. Ed. Zadroga. All of the lawsuits are linked in some way.
Ansara and Zadroga alleged they were unfairly disciplined and harassed for providing information about an alleged ticket-fixing incident involving one of their captains.
Ansara allegedly followed orders to void a traffic ticket he wrote on Nov. 7, 2011. Zadroga claims to have told the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office about the incident two weeks later. Ansara eventually gave testimony about the alleged ticket fix to the Prosecutor’s Office.
The person who received the ticket for allegedly running the red light at Main and Buck streets is not identified by name in either lawsuit. Zadroga’s lawsuit identifies the person as the daughter of a retired police officer and a family friend of the police captain who ordered the ticket voided.
Ansara stated in his lawsuit that he wound up being suspended from Feb. 27, 2012, through March 17, 2013. He further charged that he was “humiliated by being pegged as the individual making up an alleged ticket-fixing scheme” and that he had “inappropriate comments continually directed at him by supervisors.”
In his lawsuit, Zadroga states that he has endured “a steady barrage of retaliation” because he reported the alleged ticket-fixing to the Prosecutor's Office. That included having a stuffed rat placed in front of his office door and “being targeted for unwarranted discipline.”
Along with alleging that some detectives were not fully investigating cases, Miller claims in his lawsuit that he was treated unfairly after refusing to take sides in ongoing disputes involving Zadroga and Haas. Part of that dispute involved an alleged effort by Zadroga to remove Haas as police chief, Miller’s lawsuit reads.
Miller, a 10-year-veteran of the Police Department, alleges his decision to stay neutral prompted Zadroga to unfairly give him more cases to investigate than other detectives, the lawsuit states.
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