WEST WILDWOOD — A former Class II officer in the borough claims in a lawsuit he was fired from his job for writing tickets to political allies of Mayor Christopher Fox and he was directed to target residents who may not vote for the mayor in future elections.
Jeremy Mawhinney, of Egg Harbor City, was hired by the West Wildwood Police Department as a Class II officer in June 2016 and fired in October 2017 after he was told several times by his sergeant, James Dodd, and Chief Jackie Ferentz not to write tickets to Fox’s allies, regardless of whether they were breaking the law, according to the lawsuit.
Business Administrator Christopher Ridings said Tuesday the borough does not comment on pending litigation. Fox did not return a request for comment.
The lawsuit is the second the borough has grappled with over the past two years.
Last year, a Cape May County jury awarded Ferentz about $1.7 million in her whistleblower suit against the borough and its former mayor, Herbert Frederick, that has led to tax increases for the 600 residents.
In that lawsuit, Ferentz, whose annual salary is $101,000, claimed Frederick interfered with police business during his time as mayor.
Frederick was dropped from the lawsuit before Ferentz was awarded the money.
This lawsuit accuses Fox, the current mayor, of also meddling in police affairs.
Fox and Ferentz live together, but have denied there is a romantic relationship, according to previous press reports.
Mawhinney also says in his lawsuit Fox personally intervened in numerous cases to have criminal charges against his allies dropped and that he was directed to write tickets and summonses against residents of three homes on West Glenwood Avenue and West Poplar Avenue, according to the suit.
On June 26, 2016, Mawhinney alleges, he responded to a residence on Magnolia Avenue for a noise complaint and alleged use of marijuana. Upon arriving, Mawhinney and Dodd, who also responded, were threatened by one of the home’s occupants, saying he was going to call the mayor and they would be fired if they arrested him, the lawsuit states.
Both officers arrested the man and found marijuana, which was taken to the Police Department as evidence, according to the lawsuit. Once at the police station, the officers there received a phone call from Ferentz saying the mayor was demanding the marijuana be disposed of and the defendant be released on a noise complaint he would have dismissed in court.
“The mayor further indicated that (Mawhinney) and the other officers were working in a small town where they need the residents to politically back (him) … for the next election,” the lawsuit states.
Mawhinney says Dodd then told him he was going to flush the marijuana down the toilet and release the defendant, who was not named in the lawsuit.
In July 2016, Mawhinney says, he was told by both Dodd and Ferentz there were only three houses in the whole community that officers should target and continually write summonses against, in hopes it would run the occupants out of town because the mayor “did not want them in his town as they did not support (him),” according to the lawsuit.
Mawhinney says this conduct continued on several occasions, which included him having his ticket book taken away, until he was fired in October 2017.
The lawsuit also says the mayor held a meeting Sept. 6, 2017, with the Police Department telling officers to only write tickets against the residents of the three specific houses and not against his allies.
“The mayor indicated that he did not care if his political supporters were doing 90 mph down Glenwood Avenue, a 25 mph zone, and that they were to be left alone,” the lawsuit states.
In October, Mawhinney says, he was fired by Ferentz, who told him she likes him but had to fire him because of pressure at home from the mayor, according to the lawsuit.
Mawhinney’s lawuit seeks an undetermined monetary amount in damages plus interest, attorney fees and costs of the suit. He is represented by Northfield attorney David Castellani.