MARCH 2011 Press of Atlantic City
An internal investigation of former Brigantine police Chief Jim Frugoli found that he violated the department’s sexual harassment policy by making “offensive or derogatory comments” toward a department employee, including that “he slapped her on the behind,” called her names such as “Sugar Lips” and would “stand uncomfortably close” to her, according to the report.
The report was finished one week before Frugoli announced his retirement in March 2010, but had not been released until Wednesday to the public and only after a lengthy legal battle by an open public records advocate.
Frugoli, the woman who made the accusations and City Manager Jim Barber signed a settlement agreement on March 30, 2010 — one week after the investigation was submitted to the city — in which the victim agreed not to sue if Frugoli retired and never sought city employment again. The victim received no money as part of the settlement.
Frugoli announced his retirement the next day, March 31, 2010, citing a bad back. He received a $159,778 retirement package.
The report conducted by Archer & Greiner attorney Susan Hodges documented allegations by the employee, whose name was not released, that “she feels like the chief is stalking her,” that he would breath down her neck and stick his finger in her ear, and that she was worried about retaliation because “the Frugoli family ‘owns this town'” — and that “she didn’t want to file a lawsuit, she just wanted the harassment to stop.”
Hodges found that “many of these allegations were known to members of the police force, who failed to report them,” even though several officers later corroborated the victim’s story. In the report, officers also referred to Brigantine as “Frugoliville” and said that “anybody who says anything against the Frugolis is ‘done.'”
In the end, two police captains, then-Capt. and current Chief John Stone and Capt. Raymond Cox, did bring the victim’s allegations to light and launched the investigation after she broke down in tears one day.
The investigation report was released as part of a lawsuit by public records advocate John Paff, who filed a lawsuit against Brigantine in September when the city refused to release the report by claiming it was a government record exempted by state laws.
Click here to read the report.
In a Feb. 25 ruling, Superior Court Judge Nelson Johnson said that the report, described as being conducted by an “independent fact finder,” is in fact “a common law public record,” not a government record.
Though the state Government Records Council officially denied The Press of Atlantic City’s appeal for those same documents on those same grounds as recently as Tuesday, Johnson cited a separate section of the law that states that “Nothing contained in (OPRA) … shall be construed as affecting the common law right of access to any record, including, but not limited to, criminal investigatory records.”
A copy of the report was received by Paff and his attorney, Richard Gutman, on Wednesday.
“I think it is important that people know the reasons why he had his early retirement,” Gutman said Wednesday, “and also that the public know how the municipality deals with allegations of sexual harassment.”
In January, the city had partially settled with Paff and released the March 30, 2010, settlement agreement, in which all potential claims and lawsuits would be dropped in connection with Frugoli taking terminal leave beginning April 1, 2010, and retiring June 1, 2010.
City Attorney Tim Maguire stressed in a brief, also released as part of the settlement with Paff, that Frugoli had previously informed the department he was going to retire in April and that Stone and Cox initiated the investigation on the “very day” that Frugoli had announced, in mid-February 2010, that he was reconsidering his decision to retire.
The woman making the accusations, Maguire stated, “has made perfectly clear to all involved that she did not want to file any type of complaint or grievance against Chief Frugoli and wanted the matter to remain confidential. Despite this, Capt. Cox and Capt. Stone conferred and insisted that an investigation must commence.”
The investigation report includes a description of the interview with the victim in which she said “she was so happy” upon initial word of Frugoli’s retirement “because she would not have to ‘put up’ with him anymore. However, when she found out he wasn’t going to retire, she broke down and started crying … in front of Capt. Cox and Det. (Ralph) Spina. She indicated Capt. Cox seemed confused as to why she was so upset, and she explained by saying something to the effect of, ‘You know how he treats me and the things he does.'”
The victim said that Cox was unaware of her concerns, but told her that now that he knew, he would have to “do something.”
In his interview with Hodges, Cox said the victim was still afraid of “retaliation” and did not want to go forward. The victim also claimed that Barber had told her, “It’s not that I don’t believe you, but I find it hard to believe.”
Stone’s attorney, Steven Scheffler, said that Stone was “extremely upset” by what he said were the “implications” in Maguire’s brief that the current chief initiated the investigation for personal gain.
“If the city solicitor or anyone else filed legal documents that suggest that, that widens to a pretty bad level,” Scheffler said. “As an officer in Brigantine, it’s almost like a textbook account of what you should do if put in that situation. (Stone) went through the direct chain of command and clearly had no ulterior motive or personal motive to force someone out. … Under no circumstances would he jeopardize his position or anyone else’s by holding onto information that needs to be reviewed through the city administration. It’s borderline absurd.”
Barber said he was bound by the confidentiality clause in the settlement agreement and could not comment. Maguire could not be reached for comment.
Frugoli could not be reached for comment Wednesday. He has not returned telephone calls seeking comment on the investigation since April 2010.
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