WASHINGTON TWP. -- Two township police officers are suing current and former police supervisors and township officials, alleging they are victims of a hostile work environment, retaliation and due process violations.Retired Washington Township Chief Rafael Muniz speaks at a 2016 police graduatiuon ceremony. (Joe Warner | For NJ Advance Media)
Timothy V. Attanasi and Kevin Tarasevich are represented by attorney Jacqueline M. Vigilante in separate cases filed last week in Superior Court.
Attanasi, a 25-year veteran of the department, claims he was retaliated against for filing grievances regarding promotions and claiming that the department's promotion process was corrupt.
His suit names former chief Rafael Muniz, former mayor Barbara Wallace, township business administrator Robert Smith and police Capt. Dennis Sims among others. He claims he took allegations of improper promotion practices and harassment to township officials, but that his concerns were not taken seriously.
As a corporal, he sued Muniz in 2013 over pay and promotion issues. As a result of that suit, Attanasi and another corporal were given the opportunity to take a promotional exam.
Although he passed the test, Attanisi says in the new suit that his promotion to sergeant was "improperly delayed" by an internal affairs complaint filed by Sims. This complaint was simply a tactic to delay the promotion, the suit alleges, and was one of several "unwarranted and baseless" internal affairs complaints filed against him.
Attanasi also claims that Muniz told him, "you might have won here, but in the long run you will never win as long as I'm here."
Muniz refused to issue him sergeant badges, identification and insignia, or even display Attanasi's rank as sergeant first class on his work mailbox. Attanasi had to purchase his sergeant insignia at his own expense, the suit states.
He claims Muniz and Sims "began a pattern of harassment and intimidation" in 2016, ordering him to wear body armor even though he had a long-standing doctor's note permitting him to wear the armor for short periods at a time because of a medical condition.
In another incident, Attanasi was issued a notice of disciplinary action over an alleged failure to perform his duties and he was placed on an on-duty suspension from all patrol and supervisory functions.
Attanasi called the situation "embarrassing and humiliating."
As a result of this treatment, Attanasi said he has been forced to use paid time off to "avoid further discipline, harassment, humiliation and retaliation."
Tarasevich, who names Muniz, Sims, Smith and Capt. Robert Borkowski in his suit, joined the department in 2007. He claims he was the target of an internal affairs investigation that stemmed from a December 2014 incident in which he issued a ticket to a driver who happened to be related to an incoming township council member.
Sneeze, shirt wipe lead to suspension, lawsuit
The motorist "communicated" with Sims and other police officials about the traffic stop, but the stop was not recorded, the suit states, because of a malfunctioning microphone on his car's mobile video recording system. The suit doesn't describe what issue the motorist had with Tarasevich's conduct.
Sims pursued the matter even after the motorist refused to pursue it, according to the suit. Tarasevich also claimed he was denied the opportunity to have his attorney present during an interview about the case.
Sims ordered a review of Tarasevich's performance in March 2015, resulting in a suspension, according to the suit.
Later that year, Tarasevich was assigned for training on use of Taser equipment.
The suit states that Sims created a policy and procedure detailing where the Taser should be placed on an officer's duty belt.
Because of the placement of the radio and Taser on the belt, "an officer assigned a Taser had to reach around the Taser equipment to utilize the radio equipment," according to the suit. "This maneuver caused severe pain in the plaintiff's left shoulder."
Tarasevich's doctor recommended placement of the Taser in a different location, but that request was rejected, according to the lawsuit, and he was ordered to continue training immediately.
"During the course of training, plaintiff was required to remove and re-holster the Taser numerous times in quick succession, further aggravating plaintiff's shoulder," the suit states.
A township workmen's compensation doctor ordered the Taser moved, prompting further retaliation, the suit alleges, and ongoing requirements that the weapon be worn in the original location. This aggravated the shoulder injury.
Tarasevich claims lost time from work and lost compensation because of this treatment.
Both officers are seeking compensatory and punitive damages
Vigilante expressed hope that both officers will fare better under the new Washington Township administration. A new mayor and new police chief were sworn in earlier this month.
"In the environment we live in today, police officers are far too often the targets of violence, allegations and abuse," she said. "It is unfortunate that, with all of the threats they face on the streets, Officer Tarasevich and Sgt. Attanasi have been targeted by their own police department.
"It is our hope that with these lawsuits, and the new administration in Washington Township, these wrongs will be corrected and the officers can return to their police duties and responsibilities without being subjected to this kind of harassment."
Efforts to reach a township solicitor for comment were unsuccessful.
Matt Gray may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MattGraySJT. Find the South Jersey Times on Facebook.
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