Racial Tension, Lawsuit Beleaguer Campus Police Department
Three black members of the College’s security force are suing their white counterparts, as well as the College itself, for racial discrimination, The Perspective has learned.
Campus Police Officer Lorenzo Shockley, joined by security guards Wayne Evans and Armond Harris, claim they have been subjected to “a hostile work environment because of their race,” according to court documents. They name three white officers, Sergeant Raymond Scully, Officer C. Matthew Mastrosimone, and Sergeant Kevin McCullough as the primary perpetrators.
Barring a settlement, the case could enter a full jury trial as early as this summer, according to Mark Pfeffer, an Atlantic City, N.J.-based attorney representing the plaintiffs.
The civil lawsuit, entitled Shockley, Evans, and Harris v. The College of New Jersey, Scully, Mastrosimone, and McCullough, was filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey on June 26, 2008.
With officers pitted against one another in an emotionally-driven legal affair, some have doubted whether the police department can function as a cohesive unit. “There’s no question that their spirit of cooperation has diminished,” said Dr. John Krimmel, professor of criminology at the College.
Rampant Discrimination Revealed
Racial inequities have long plagued the Campus Police, according to two people familiar with the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on pending litigation. As a result, painful rifts have emerged between blocs of officers who view one another with contempt.
Shockley in particular, the sources said, has been targeted with racial slurs and disparate treatment since joining the force approximately four years ago. At first, they claim, Shockley believed he was merely the subject of ceremonial ‘hazing’ as a newcomer to the force.
But after repeatedly being called the “N word” and other derogatory epithets by his fellow officers, the lone African American officer in the department sensed a deeper problem at hand.
Disdain for Shockley among white officers manifested in the assignments he was given while on patrol. In one instance, Shockley’s superiors sent him without backup to investigate a potential violent crime on campus. Officers are normally provided with backup even in non-threatening situations, the sources said, suggesting a deliberate intent to put Shockley at risk.
The removal of Scully, McCullough, and Mastrosimone would undoubtedly result in a greater spirit of cooperation within the department, the two sources said. They also questioned the competence of Police Chief John M. Collins, who they claim has done little to effectively enforce nondiscrimination policies since his tenure began approximately two years ago.
College’s Role Disputed
Shockley and his co-litigants name the College itself as a defendant on multiple grounds: one, the accused officers presided in a “supervisory role” over the plaintiffs, making the College “strictly liable” for their actions; two, the College failed to ensure that its anti-discrimination statutes were widely disseminated and publicized; and three, the College did not “take appropriate action at the time they were first notified of the hostile work environment,” according to Mark Pfeffer, the plaintiffs’ attorney.
The College is required by law to “promulgate and effectively enforce anti-harassment measures,” Pfeffer continued, and “hold periodic training sessions” informing employees about such measures. “One of the allegations I intend to pursue is that this wasn’t done,” he said.
Shockley first filed an internal complaint against Scully, Mastrosimone, and McCullough on November 1, 2007, prompting an investigation by the College’s Office of Human Resources. All Campus Police department employees were interviewed, with the exception of secretarial staff, according to a letter obtained by The Perspective.
The letter, dated April 4, 2008, is addressed to Shockley and signed by College President R. Barbara Gitenstein.
According to Gitenstein, investigators concluded that the College’s “Policy Prohibiting Discrimination, Harassment or Hostile Environments in the Workplace” had been violated. In addition, Shockley’s complaint — “related to a pattern of behavior which resulted in disparate treatment” – was “substantiated.” No claims of racially-motivated hostility, however, are mentioned in the letter.
“I assure you that the College will continue to enforce its policies and respond to concerns relative to these matters,” Gitenstein writes.
But for Shockley, the College’s response apparently proved deeply unsatisfactory. The same month he received the letter, April 2008, Shockley hired an attorney (Pfeffer) and began to assemble a legal case against the College. Evans and Harris, both security guards (rather than academy-trained, armed police officers) subsequently joined the effort — though Shockley is the litigant from whom the charges seem to have first originated.
All three plaintiffs declined to speak on-the-record about the nature of the allegations. Shockley first denied knowledge of the case, but later referred questions to his lawyer. Scully and Mastrosimone could not be reached for comment, and McCullough also denied knowledge of the case. The defendants’ attorney, Joseph A. Carmen of Marlton, N.J., did not respond to phone messages.
TCNJ Chief of Police John M. Collins had no comment, citing the cases’ pending status.
A History of Distrust
Shockley’s lawsuit may be the first time racial discrimination accusations have been formally leveled by Campus Police personnel, but problems of discord within the department are longstanding.
In the fall of 2006, students, faculty, and staff collaborated to form an Ad Hoc Committee on Campus Police, which sought to address the “widely-shared perception that the Campus Police Department was out-of-sync with TCNJ’s Mission and Core Beliefs.” The committee’s final report, issued on April 26, 2007, states that “there is great animosity among a number of Campus Police Officers.”
“Some officers may be too aggressive, causing unnecessary strife among and between members of the Campus Police Department,” the committee’s report concludes.
Though the officers in question were never named in the report, one could reasonably infer that those involved in the lawsuit played a role in the committee’s discovery of acrimonious relations within the department.
The report also states that Campus Police officers with supervisory roles were reluctant to meet with the committee, though eventually “did so unhappily, as evidenced by a hostile tone, an uncooperative attitude, and evasive answers to questions.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Scully, the accused incendiary, acted as Shockley’s supervisor when the suit was filed, according to court documents — and continues to operate in that capacity. Scully was suspended from active duty in November 2008 by the New Jersey Commission on Civil Service, but it is not clear whether his suspension is linked to the case in question.
Shockley alleges that hostilities began in March 2007 — the same time the Ad Hoc committee’s investigation was being conducted. And according to Pfeffer, the situation was exacerbated in the period between November 2007 and April 2008, when Shockley was subjected to “disciplinary actions in response to and in retaliation for,” his having filed the original internal complaint.
It is unclear exactly what role the charges of racial discrimination play in the lawsuit. And Pfeffer, citing his intention to “abide by the rules of professional conduct,” declined to elaborate on the nature of the hostilities to which his clients were allegedly subjected. But motives aside, friction within the Police Department revealed by the Ad Hoc Committee in 2007 has not dissipated — and may well have intensified.
An Uncertain Future
A crucial question should thus be raised: Can these six men feasibly work with one another while simultaneously engaged in a strenuous legal battle? According to College spokesperson Matthew Golden, students, faculty, and staff need not worry: “The members of the office of Campus Police services would not allow anything to compromise the safety and security of TCNJ’s community members,” he said.
But precisely that — a lack of departmental cohesion resulting from the behavior of the defendants — is “one of our allegations,” Pfeffer said.
If personal animosity is preventing these officers from working efficiently with one another, the safety of the TCNJ community may be jeopardized. Proper maintenance of a police force demands that officers interact in an amicable, collaborative manner. Police department and College officials must be forthright in their explanation regarding how this perpetual drama has affected the operational efficacy of the force.
Other questions also remain: If it is true, as Shockley alleges, that the College failed to act appropriately to protect its employees from racial discrimination, what steps have subsequently been taken to enforce these legally-required statutes? Have offending officers faced disciplinary sanction, and if so, why are they still employed?
The College, represented by then-New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram, filed a motion to dismiss the charges in October 2008 for a lack of evidence — but the motion was denied.
There is “strong evidence of a violation of the rules and regulations of the College regarding racial discrimination,” Pfeffer said.
The lawsuit is currently in its “discovery” phase, during which time both sides are permitted to ask each other questions, take depositions, and subpoena documents in order to elucidate facts pertaining to the case.
This much is clear: there have been serious breaches of professional conduct within the police department. Though everyone is entitled to a presumption of innocence, two separate investigations commissioned by the College have concluded that certain police officers are causing unwarranted strife for their fellow security personnel. This, in turn, could mean that students, faculty, and staff cannot be certain that the department is well-equipped to ensure our safety.
What if the case goes to trial, as the plaintiffs’ attorney has predicted it will? Can these officers seriously be expected to work with one another when they are testifying against one another?
Check back with The Perspective for more information as it becomes available.