ROSELLE, NJ — A former police lieutenant has been awarded about $1.2 million by a jury after accusing the borough and its previous police chief of racial discrimination, court documents show.
Bradley Downing, who is part African- American and Caucasian, filed suit in December 2015 in Union County Superior Court alleging former Police Chief Gerald Orlando derailed his promotion to captain, court records say.
Downing had “no major disciplinary” history in his 26 years on the force and scored No. 1 on a promotional test in 2013, the complaint said. The suit accused Orlando of making “bogus” internal affairs charges against Downing around the time he took the exam.
“Orlando (served) the plaintiff with disciplinary charges the first day after it was announced that the plaintiff placed No. 1 on the promotional exam, in order to ensure that Orlando would have a ‘reason’ not to promote the plaintiff,” the complaint said.
Borough spokesman Matthew Hersh pointed LocalSource to a statement published on the borough’s website.
“While this legal matter was initiated under the previous mayor and his administration, the current borough administration vehemently challenges the recent court decision and strongly rejects the claims of the plaintiff as without merit,” the statement read. “In fact, a detailed investigation conducted by an independent counsel confirmed that there was no evidence to substantiate the allegations made by the plaintiff.
“The borough supports and fosters an environment of equal opportunity for all of its employees and, therefore, must explore all legal avenues to overturn the unfortunate and misguided decision in this matter.”
Orlando, who is white, subjected Downing to “minor discipline” for alleged infractions such as not making copies of paperwork, not placing initials on the bottom of a report and being eight minutes late just once in more than 20 years, the suit said.
In a letter written to the borough administrator in 2015, Downing said he had repeatedly asked Orlando to justify his treatment toward him.
“Since the chief cannot or will not supply me with any justification for his treatment of me … I am forced to look at the only difference that I can see between me and my fellow lieutenants, and the difference is that I am black.”
The “harassment” Downing endured led to his “forced retirement,” according to the lawsuit.
Orlando, meanwhile, retired earlier this year and was replaced in February by Brian K. Barnes, the first African-American police chief in the borough’s history, according to a January press release from the borough.
The same law firm representing both the borough and Orlando did not respond to a request for comment when reached by phone March 23.
Patrick Toscano, of the Toscano Law Firm, represented Downing and said that five of the seven jurors who deliberated the case were white. The jury reached its decision March 20, court records show.
“Accordingly, if this verdict does not show that racism will no longer be accepted in our educated and enlightened society, I do not believe anything ever will,” Toscano said in an email. “Simply put, achievement has no color.”
Downing sent a letter to borough business administrator Dave Brown alerting him to the situation with Orlando in February 2015, the suit said. The lawsuit alleged that the business administrator either never told borough officials about the memo, or “if he did, the governing body took no proper action to Orlando as a result thereof.”
“The governing body, through previous lawsuits, complaints and concerns voiced by the plaintiff and others,” the 2015 complaint read, “has been aware of the propensities of Orlando for at least a five-year period, yet has taken no action to halt/curb/cease Orlando’s opprobrious conduct toward the plaintiff and/or others.”
Orlando was appointed as permanent police chief in 2010, after a Union County Superior Court judge ruled in a legal battle as to whether the mayor or council could appoint department heads, the Star-Ledger reported.
Former Roselle Mayor Garrett Smith did not appoint Orlando to the permanent position, the newspaper reported. Smith told the newspaper that the council chose Orlando using its authority as a result of the judge’s ruling.
Former council President and current state Assemblyman Jamel Holley, who was council president in 2010, wrote in a public Facebook post March 21 that, “Discrimination is a real issue and elected officials like Mayor (Christine) Dansereau refuse to step up and put an end to this practice.”
When reached by phone on March 23, Holley became agitated and abruptly hung up when asked to elaborate on his post.
Dansereau, who was a council member at the time of Orlando’s permanent appointment, made her own Facebook post in an apparent rebuttal, calling the state assemblyman’s statements “disingenuous.”
“I think Assemblyman Holley needs to not make statements like that,” Dansereau said in a March 23 phone interview. “It’s just unfortunate. It’s disappointing that he would speak like that.”
The jury awarded Downing $350,000 for emotional distress, $60,000 in back pay and $48,000 for future lost wages. Additionally, Downing will receive more than $570,000 in pension losses and $250,000 in punitive damages. Another $300,000 will be added to the jury’s verdict judgment for attorney fees, Downing’s lawyer said.