Looking Back: Brigantine Lawsuits Financed by Taxpayers

Lawsuits, grievances and pay-outs; business as usual on Brigantine Beach. From the archives. MARCH 2011 >> A woman working for the Brigantine Police Department told an investigator that she “feels like the chief is stalking her” shortly before Jim Frugoli publicly resigned after an 18-month tenure in the post. Written by Joe Tyrell from NewJerseyNewsRoom.com.

Frugoli referred to the woman as “sweet lips” and “sugar lips,” stuck his finger in her ear and frequently stood “inappropriately close’ to her. On one occasion while Frugoli was still a captain, he “swatted her on the behind,” according to the report compiled by outside attorney Susan Hodges.

Superior Court Judge Nelson C. Johnson released an edited version of the document, with the victim’s name removed, after John Paff, head of the Libertarian Party’s open government efforts in New Jersey, filed suit against the city to get it.

The court decision followed a move by the state Government Records Council to deny the Press of Atlantic City access to the report, citing an exemption for sexual harassment investigations under the state Open Public Records Act.

Brigantine officials had refused to release the document, which is embarrassing to more than just Frugoli, who stepped down a year ago. Statements from other members of the police department made clear that some were aware of the sexual harassment but did nothing, according to Hodges of the Archer & Greiner firm.

Although the woman said she did not want to file complaints, “it is the responsibility of a supervisor to report any claim of harassment in the workplace,” Hodges wrote.

Meanwhile, a week after Hodges submitted the report to City Manager Jim Barber, he reached an agreement with the woman that she would not sue the city if Frugoli went through with an earlier decision to retire.

It was Frugoli’s second thoughts about retiring that prompted the woman to talk to Capt. Randy Cox, the department’s internal affairs officer, who filed the sexual harassment complaint against the chief, according to court documents.

Frugoli became chief in August 2008 after 25 years with the department. But in December 2009, he contacted City Manager Jim Barber, citing a bad back and asking about retirement benefits.

On Feb. 4, 2010, Frugoli sent an e-mail to the entire department announcing his intention to retire in March or April, according to Johnson. Hodges quoted Lt. Ceann Hingston, the department’s top-ranking woman, as saying the message had “people dancing in their offices.”

Detective Ralph Spina confirmed some of the employee’s complaints, telling Hodges that Frugoli required her to send a text alert whenever she went anywhere.

Interviewed by Hodges, Frugoli “steadfastly denied all the allegations,” and said no one had ever filed a complaint against him. At the time, he said he planned to remain in the post until the end of 2010, according to her report.

The employee told Hodges she never filed a formal complaint against the chief because she was “extremely concerned about retaliation,” especially because “the Frugoli family ‘owns this town,'” the report said. The woman told Hodges she raised the issue with the city manager, but he responded, “It’s not that I don’t believe you, but I find it hard to believe,” and that he “can’t transfer the Chief,” according to the report.

While Patrolman Richard Casamento described the situation as “run of the mill sexual harassment,” he agreed with the woman that “anybody who says anything against Frugoli is ‘done,'” according to Hodges.

Patrolman Chris Powell said the chief “would make inappropriate gestures and comments about [the woman’s] breasts, and described him as “demeaning to women,” according to Hodges.

Against this background, Johnson agreed with Paff’s attorney Richard Gutman that despite the sexual harassment exception, “there is nothing in OPRA that destroys a citizen’s common law right of access to any public record.” He cited an appellate court ruling in a Monmouth County case that disclosure of such matters “may, in fact, encourage other victims to come forward.”

The court documents are posted on-line here.  Joe Tyrrell may be reached at jtyrrell@newjerseynewsroom.com

From the Press of Atlantic City

Investigation reveals instances of sexual harassment that preceded Brigantine police chief’s retirement

CLICK TO READ:  Brigantine Police Chief Retires Amid Scandal



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