Linden firefighters accuse chief of assault, racism

Photo Courtesy of the City of Linden website
LINDEN OFFICIALS — From left, Fire Chief Joseph Dooley with Mayor Derek Armstead and Police Chief David Hart at its recent Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony at Firehouse No. 1.

LINDEN, NJ — A Linden Fire Department senior captain has made a series of allegations against fire Chief Joseph Dooley, including that he was “physically assaulted” by the chief at the scene of a call.

Reading from a prepared statement at the council meeting on Monday, Sept. 17, Capt. Fred Castle alleged that Dooley used the N-word in the presence of black firefighters, mocked the accents of Polish and Hispanic members of the fire department, made anti-Semitic jokes at the expense of a Jewish firefighter and used a homophobic slur against another firefighter.

Castle also alleged that Dooley said that if Castle were a priest, he would be a pedophile and once asked him upon returning from church if he had gone for his “free biscuit.”

Dooley, who was sworn in as fire chief in September 2015, declined to address the accusations.
“What I’m going to suggest is that you speak to the Mayor’s Office,” Dooley told LocalSource on Friday, Sept. 21. “I’m obviously not going to comment on something that’s a personnel matter. Your best bet is to contact the Mayor’s Office and see what they have to say.”
According to Castle, he filed a formal complaint against Dooley two years ago, after Dooley allegedly grabbed him by his lapel at the scene of call. Castle alleged Dooley was not disciplined although a fellow firefighter had witnessed the incident.

In February, Castle also filed a 90-page formal complaint listing 200 incidents of alleged misconduct involving Dooley. Castle said the city hired an attorney to investigate the matter, but he doesn’t know the status of that investigation or if any action was taken against Dooley.
“I was not trying to air dirty laundry,” Castle said in a phone interview Monday, Sept. 24. “I came forward so all the council members would be aware of the facts.”
Castle, who has been a member of the fire department for 31 years, declined to speak further about the issue.

Allan Roth, a personnel officer for the city, acknowledged the receipt of the complaints but declined to comment further in a phone interview Friday, Sept. 21.
The allegations made in the council meeting come on the heels of a different formal complaint recently filed by another member of the fire department. Firefighter Mark Bullock filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that Dooley had used the N-word three times in his presence inside the firehouse.

According to the complaint, a copy of which has been obtained by LocalSource from the firefighter, Bullock, who is black, wrote “I allege respondent discriminated against me in connection to my race … Specifically, on Aug. 8, 2018, Chief Joseph Dooley received allegations that another firefighter referred to me using the unwelcome racially offensive word N*****. In response, the chief made statements where he then used the word N***** three times during the course of his statement to me. I was offended.”

Regarding Bullock’s complaint, Dooley, who is white, told LocalSource on Friday, Sept. 21, “That is being investigated appropriately and I won’t make any comment on that since it is an ongoing investigation.”

Bullock said he had tried to file a formal complaint locally with affirmative action officer Janice Brown, who retired at the end of August. According to Bullock, at one point, Brown brought him and his written statement into a meeting with Mayor Derek Armstead, who also is black.

“The mayor brushed us off,” Bullock said of that meeting. “He said, ‘There’s nothing I could do about it.’ It was almost comical. He was like, ‘What do you want me to do about this?’ (Brown) was like, ‘He wants you to do some type of reaction to this.’ (Armstead) was like, ‘I have no control. What do you want me to do? There’s nothing I can do.’ He was like, ‘I have to go out and get some sodas.’ And he walked away.”
Armstead said the matter is being handled according to proper procedure.

“I really am sorry he feels that way, but then again you have to understand that I am the mayor,” Armstead said in a phone interview Friday, Sept. 21. “We have an affirmative action officer and they handle these things and there has to be proper discussion before I come down … now, what am I going to do? Am I going to go ahead and punish the chief for something that was said? Or as I bring it to the chief, do I give him the opportunity to say, ‘Listen, if I said anything that was offensive to Mr. Bullock, I’m going to apologize.’ So that’s where I’m at with this.”

Bullock, who has been a firefighter for 12 years, said he initially was seeking an apology from Dooley. Since so much time has passed and he said he still has not been contacted by an official from the city, he said he now isn’t sure an apology would be enough.

“At this point, I don’t know because I’m so angry,” Bullock said. “At this point, I feel like an apology, it won’t be sincere. It’s been over 40 days. I’ve been asking for an apology for 40 days. And then, all of sudden you’re under pressure and it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry.’”

When asked if he is concerned about the fire department in the light of Castle’s allegations and Bullock’s formal complaint, Armstead said, “Of course, when we have complaints filed against department heads, there has to be some concern. I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘I’m not at all concerned. I’m not even going to try to look at Mr. Bullock’s complaint.’

“And I’m not going to take it lightly. You can never take these kind of complaints lightly. I don’t know what’s going on here. There’s obviously some issues that are going on in this department that perhaps have existed long before I became mayor. My job as the mayor is to sort through them and see to it that they don’t adversely affect the department and we can continue to move our department, especially our emergency management department, move them forward.”