A mayor in New Jersey, who has been accused of racism and abusing her power, has asked the state’s attorney general to help manage the police department in a borough beset by lawsuits from its officers alleging abuse, bullying, discrimination and retaliation.
Jackie Palmer, the mayor of Spotswood in central New Jersey, implored the attorney general to act “to ensure accountability,” alleging in a statement that the borough’s internal affairs operation and police leadership are “broken” and “should not be used to target and intimidate” its employees, including police officers and other public officials.
Spotswood has a population of about 8,100 people, with a 24-person police department. Six members of it have filed suits or letters of intent to sue against the borough so far this year, in addition to an officer who sued last year.
Officers James Parsons, Daniel Hoover, Osman Dikiz and Dominik Skibniewski allege in a lawsuit filed Jan. 31 in Superior Court of Middlesex County that the police department’s Internal Affairs Unit “has become a vehicle used to target officers with harassment, intimidation, and retaliation.” The suit names the borough, Police Chief Philip Corbisiero and Richard Sasso Jr., a senior patrolman who recently sued the borough and the mayor, as defendants.
“While not a member of Internal Affairs,” the lawsuit alleges, “Sasso is a puppet” of Corbisiero and acting Capt. Nicholas Mayo.
The four officers’ lawsuit accuses Corbisiero, Mayo and Sasso of factionalizing the department in a personal vendetta against the mayor and the borough administrator and of targeting anyone who does not support Corbisiero and Sasso’s efforts to oust her. It also alleges violations of state laws against discrimination and retaliation and accuses Corbisiero and Mayo of having “bestowed special privilege status upon Sasso.”
Dikiz alleges in the suit that he “has suffered intimidation, harassment, racial and religious discrimination, unlawful use of force, and the threat of deadly force at the hands of” Sasso, who he alleges tried to push his head into a toilet and pressed a Taser to Dikiz’s temple.
Patrick Toscano, Sasso’s attorney, described the four officers’ lawsuit as an attempted “money grab at taxpayers’ expense.”
“We remain confident that this frivolous lawsuit will indeed be dismissed with prejudice, upon simple motion,” Toscano said.
Mayo could not immediately be reached at phone numbers listed for him.
Dan Prochilo, a spokesperson for Attorney General Matthew Platkin, said the attorney general’s office “does not confirm or deny the existence of investigations, and we have no further comment at this time.”
Sasso accused Palmer in a lawsuit filed last month of using her position to “assert convoluted and misplaced power” to, among other things, stymie his career. Sasso alleges that Palmer refuses to promote him in retaliation for her husband’s “forced resignation” from the department. Sasso says in his lawsuit that Palmer opposed “numerous disciplinary actions” against her husband that ultimately led him to leave the force. Kevin Palmer did not immediately return a request for comment. Sasso also alleges that Palmer had ordered police officers to remove a man from a municipal building she and her staff were in because the man was Black and they did not feel safe.
Palmer’s attorney, Eric Martin Bernstein, has said she “is being targeted” by a handful of police officers “who are trying to describe her as a racist and an interferer of police operations.” About 80% of Spotswood’s residents are white, as are Palmer and Sasso.
Gina Mendola Longarzo, an attorney for Corbisiero, described the lawsuit filed by the four officers as ridiculous.
Longarzo said that Corbisiero has not taken any adverse actions against the four men and that most of them were just promoted. She said their lawsuit “was very telling” because they seem to align themselves with Palmer. (Attorneys for the four men did not immediately respond to requests for comment about her allegations.)
Corbisiero has filed a notice of intent to sue the borough for $2.5 million, alleging, among other things, that Palmer has interfered with the daily operations of the police department. He also claims the mayor has tried to force him and Sasso to allow her to access encrypted police radio.
In her statement last week, Palmer said, “Officers have been subject to unlawful and relentless abuse, bullying, and discrimination, which has gone unaddressed by police leadership, if not encouraged by police leadership.” Corbisiero’s lawyer said she sent Palmer a cease-and-desist letter Thursday about “her defamatory press release.”
The lawsuits filed this year join one filed by Brittany Johnson, the first female police officer in the department, on March 30. Johnson alleges in her suit that she was subjected to a hostile work environment, sexual harassment and discrimination based on her gender. She alleges Officer Skibniewski once accidentally pocket-dialed her and she heard him refer to her as a “stupid b—-” to other colleagues. She named the borough, Palmer, Dikiz, Officer Nelson Nichols and Corbisiero as defendants. Corbisiero was recently dismissed without prejudice from her lawsuit, said her attorney, Austin Tobin. Nichols declined to comment Thursday.