UNION COUNTY, NJ — Former Kean University police officer Randy Diakunczak is suing Kean University and the Kean University Police Department for what he states was his wrongful discharge from his job after he filed complaints of racism, bigotry and harassment against other officers in the department.
According to Diakunczak in an interview with LocalSource for this story, he, along with several other officers, suffered for years at the hands of a group of officers — still at the department — who took retaliatory measures against Diakunczak after he reported incidents to higher authorities, both at the department and at the university.
Also named in the suit are former Kean University Police Chief David Parks and Detective Lt. Michael Gorman.
In 2004, Diakunczak began working as a security officer at Kean. Immediately, alleges Diakunczak, who is Jewish, he became the target of several officers in the department who began a campaign of torment against him. A variety of racial slurs were flung at Diakunczak on a daily basis, he alleges. In a 2005 incident report he submitted to his superiors, he alleged that his mail was placed in other departmental mailboxes or tossed on the floor.
During one particular incident, Diakunczak said in the interview, he was threatened with a physical beating after he confronted one of the officers whom he thought was responsible for placing his daily reports, personal documents and other personal belongings in a nearby trashcan.
But racial slurs and harassment weren’t the only workplace insults Diakunczak said he had to endure. After he lodged a formal complaint about the abuse he was receiving, he said a series of seemingly retaliatory write-ups and disciplinary actions were taken against him, along with the beginnings of a slow and steady campaign to bring his ability as an officer into question.
At this point in his career, he said he decided to ignore the alleged harassment and just focus on his job. And he did well. During his coming years at Kean, Diakunczak received the Meritorious Service Award, in 2007; the New Jersey College & University Public Safety Association Award, in 2008 and 2009; Community Service and Honorary Service awards, in 2008; and the Officer of the Year, in 2009.
Diakunczak said in the interview that he was often referred to by students as “Officer Randy.” He developed a reputation on campus, he said, as a friendly and trusted officer, and was able to connect with students from all walks of life. He said he was also openly accepting of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender student population and student groups on campus, and was appointed coordinator of the Community Policing Unit, and believes that this was part of the reason why he became a target at the department.
During this time, several other officers contacted police department supervisors about racial slurs and harassment. LocalSource has obtained documented complaints reporting many of these incidents.
• A Colombian officer filed a complaint in 2008, a copy of which was provided to LocalSource, to a higher authority at the department alleging that he overheard Kean University Police Sgt. Keith Graham tell another officer that he looked like “Shaka Zulu” due to his darker skin. Graham spoke further, said the complaint, using racially charged expletives to describe the officer. According to an incident report, the Colombian officer also found his name crossed off a roster with notes next to it that read, “We don’t want any N’s,” along with a picture of a black man with rotten teeth taped to a box of chocolates inside his mailbox. The following day, the same officer found a sheet of paper in the department calling him the N-word.
• In May 2009, a sergeant in the department reported that he turned on a dispatch computer and on the screen was a Photoshopped picture of Diakunczak and a black officer in the department with their arms around each other against a rainbow background — the symbol of the gay pride movement — and a heart in the middle. The picture was on many of the computers in the department, seen by department personnel and civilians alike.
• Just a few months later, in October 2009, a student walked into the department after a hit-and-run accident and spoke with Diakunczak about the incident. When Diakunczak handed the student his card, he said,the student abruptly returned the card, explaining that there was a slur written on it. Diakunczak looked at the card and said he was shocked to discover the word “homo” written on it. Upon further examination of his business cards, Diakunczak found approximately 22 cards with homophobic words and phrases written on them, such as “tranny,” “freak,” and “anus,” — all homophobic and transgender slurs — among others. Diakunczak said he recognized the handwriting as that of Det. Lt. Michael Gorman. LocalSource has obtained photographic evidence of this incident, as well as the formal complaint and results of that complaint.
Diakunczak reported this last incident to Charlie Williams, director of the Kean University Affirmative Action Program, alleging discrimination based on his Jewish ethnicity; retaliation when he initially reported it; and breaches in confidentiality.
During a phone conversation, Diakunczak said he discussed with Williams the documented and photographic proof of the incidents that Diakunczak had sent to him. Diakunczak said that Williams told him that not only were the incidents unacceptable, but that he thought that they fell within the definition of bias crimes. Diakunczak said that Williams also told him that he had undergone training in bias crimes due to other issues within the department.
“Charlie Williams said it was a bias crime,” Diakunczak told LocalSource. “Then the university must have gotten to him,” said Diakunczak, who maintains that support from Williams ended abruptly.
Diakunczak said in an interview that just days later he was approached at headquarters by Gorman, who told Diakunczak that he was aware of the Internal Affairs complaint against him regarding the business cards. In addition, Diakunczak said Gorman knew intimate details about the report, as well as the names of the officers listed in the report.
As the alleged abuse increased, Diakunczak requested a temporary leave of absence — recommended by his physician — due to stress and health problems created by the hostile work environment.
But Diakunczak said that once word got out about his leave of absence request, Gorman wrote a letter to Lt. Al Sager, stating that he, along with other officers in the department who were allegedly friends with Gorman, questioned Diakunczak’s ability to perform his policing duties on the M4 Assault Rifle Team Unit and requested that Diakunczak “be removed from the team” for the safety of the public and himself.
“If, for any reason this request is felt to be unwarranted or unobtainable, all of the above mentioned officers would like to be notified in a timely fashion so that we can all relinquish our weapons and resign from the team,” wrote Gorman.
Under the increasing pressure, Diakunczak felt that he had no choice — he ultimately turned in his own weapon and was no longer a part of the team.
By early 2010, Diakunczak said that he still had not heard from Williams regarding the investigation. Now that Diakunczak had filed a complaint, he said that he was was referred to as a “rat,” discovering photos of rats on his computer on several occasions. In addition, on two state computers at the department, Diakunczak found the words “Operation Ratcatcher” on the screen. LocalSource has obtained photographic evidence of this incident. After he had filed a formal complaint, Diakunczak found slurs written on the department’s bathroom wall, including “My lawyer is Goldstein” and others.
In March 2010, Diakunczak reached out to Williams once again to find out the status of the IA investigation, and to express the difficulty in working under the direct supervision of Gorman and Sgt. Carlos Gonzalez, both of whom he alleges continued the harassment against him on a regular basis. There was still no resolution, he was told, in the ongoing investigation.
After Diakunczak hired an attorney back in 2009, Kean ordered a forensic handwriting analysis to be performed in order to discover the identity of the person who wrote on Diakunczak’s business cards.
In July of 2010, Diakunczak received a response from Kean University President Dawood Farahi, stating the conclusion of the investigation conducted by the Office of Affirmative Action Programs into the actions of Gonzalez, Gorman and Chief David Parks. “Based on a forensic document examination of the business cards that you supplied containing twenty-two handwritten notations, Mr. Michael Gorman has been identified as the writer on all but one of the cards.”
The letter also addressed Diankunczak’s other complaints.“The findings did not reveal sufficient evidence to substantiate a violation of the New Jersey State Policy Prohibiting Discrimination in the Workplace,” wrote Farahi in the email, a copy of which was provided to LocalSource. “The Office of Affirmative Action Program’s investigation regarding the behaviors and incidents revealed that they were unprofessional and sophomoric in nature, but do not violate State Policy.”
Diakunczak said that he has not yet received the cards back from Kean, which he submitted for evidential reasons.
Disciplinary action against Gorman came in the form of 30 days of unpaid suspension.
Gorman now serves as head of the investigation bureau.
A former member of the Kean University Police Department, who asked to remain anonymous, seemed to back up some of the assertions of Diakunczak when he told LocalSource that he left the department because of what he calls a pattern of harassment and discrimination. “I got the hell out of there,” he said. “It was getting ridiculous. There was a continuous pattern of stuff like this,” he said, referring to the harassment and racial slurs. “There’s so much stuff that just got blown away,” the source said in regard to incidents that went unreported or were not appropriately followed up.
In 2011, a Kean University staff member, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation, wrote an email to Police Department supervisors regarding an event she attended where she had witnessed, firsthand, what she described in her email as the openly hostile treatment of Diakunczak. A superior officer present at the event “showed Officer Diakunczak a total lack of respect,” she wrote. “I understand the dynamics of law enforcement but was very disturbed to see the total lack of respect that was shown to Officer Diakunczak. As the Coordinator of the Community Policing Unit, his mission is to build relationships with the students and staff at Kean, and incidents such as this could jeopardize the work he has done.” The source said that this incident “could have taken away any perception of authority that Officer Diakunczak may have with those students.”
Finally, Diakunczak was formally discharged in 2014 following his response to a trespass call on campus. Diakunczak maintained that he searched for the trespasser but could not locate him. The witness said that it may have been someone on an active trespass list. Diakunczak was told to instruct the witness to file a report, although the witness was unsure whether it was the person on the trespass list. During a taped phone conversation, Diakunczak told the witness that she did not have to file an incident report if she could not positively identify the trespasser.
Diakunczak was accused of mishandling the investigation and for subsequently attempting to cover it up, although Diakunczak categorically denies the accusations, stating that the department had been trying to find a way to get rid of him for years and had pounced on the incident as cause for termination.
“They never would have looked into a trespassing incident under normal circumstances,” said Diakunczak.
Diakunczak was subsequently fired and, according to Diakunczak, several officers, all of whom took part in the harassment, have since been promoted, including Gorman, who Diakunczak said was promoted twice.
“Due to the severity of Officer Diakunczak’s violations,” wrote Faruque Chowdhury, director of human resources at Kean University, “the disciplinary action proposed to be taken is removal from employment.”
As of press time, Chowdhury had not returned LocalSource’s request for comment.
Neither Gorman nor Williams responded to LocalSource’s request for comment. LocalSource was informed by a Kean spokesperson that both Williams and Gorman had forwarded the request for comment to the school’s office of University Relations.
Kean University spokesperson Margaret McCorry released the following statement to LocalSource.
“Kean University does not generally comment on pending litigation,” said McCorry. “However, Randy Diakunczak seems determined to try this case in the media before it heads to trial. He is a disgruntled former employee who was properly dismissed from his job for incompetency and neglect of duties. His dismissal was upheld twice in the legal system. On October 30, 2015, Administrative Law Judge Michael Antoniewicz specifically found that Diakunczak was not credible and that his conduct “undermines the public confidence in the police department and shows that Diakunczak does not have the character and skills necessary to perform such work.”
McCorry said that on Dec. 18, 2015, the Civil Service Commission determined that the action of the university in removing Diakunczak was justified and affirmed his removal. “By Order dated April 30, 2014, Superior Court Judge James Hely dismissed all of Diakunczak’s tort and contract claims and dismissed the case he brought against three individuals,” McCorry said. “Kean University is prepared to try all remaining claims in September and is confident that when all of the facts are presented, the case will be dismissed. Allegations against any Kean employee are always thoroughly investigated and appropriately addressed according to State regulations and collective negotiations agreements.”
Diakunczak told LocalSource that he was not surprised by what he calls an unjust finding on Antoniewicz’s part to uphold his termination. He was, however, surprised by Kean’s description of his character.
“I don’t understand why I’m labeled a disgruntled worker by Kean University media relations, when all I wanted was to do my job and to be treated fairly.”
Diakunczak attempted unsuccessfully to get his termination overturned and is now headed to court after filing his suit against Kean years ago.
Today, Diakunczak said he can no longer find employment at any police department because of his termination.
“I lost my job, my pension, my career, my life,” said Diakunczak. “Not only did these guys not get fired, they’ve been promoted. Here you got guys who did these bias crimes and they’re allowed to investigate bias crimes against minorities on campus.”
Diakunczak will get his day in court in September.