Settled April 2008
$210,000 plus value of reinstatement and promotions
When the ACLU-NJ began publishing this series about the mistreatment of police officers at the hands of their superiors, we knew of nine lawsuits settled since 2008 that had cost the taxpayers about $1.7 million dollars. After we began, however, we have learned of two other cases involving settlements with employees. That brings the total to eleven cases, and the total amount that taxpayers have shelled out to police employees who settled discrimination cases now approaches $2.1 million. There may be more; as we have noted, news of these settlements is hard to come by, and intensive research is needed to find out the details.
One of the cases we learned about involves Anthony Buono, who as of 2002, was a lieutenant in the NPD. Buono supported Cory Booker in the 2002 mayoral election. After the incumbent mayor, Sharpe James, defeated Booker, Buono's complaint alleges that James "openly and vehemently expressed his intention to retaliate against City workers if they politically supported Cory Booker" and that city officials created a "'list' of individuals who were purportedly politically affiliated with Cory Booker." True to their stated intentions, various city officials, including police officials, retaliated against Buono. Less than a month after the election, he was transferred to an undesirable work assignments, namely, a "punishment detail" working at the city jail. Then, between May 2004 and July 2004, Buono was given a series of "Warning Notices" which made false allegations of misconduct by Buono. After the series of Warning Notices, several notices of disciplinary action followed between July 2004 and November 2004, and Buono's attempts to resolve the matter through internal channels went unheeded. Eventually, in November 2005, Buono was demoted to sergeant on the basis of a meritless disciplinary charge.
In June 2006, Buono filed a state lawsuit which was then removed to federal court (No. 06-cv-3414), naming the City and Anthony Ambrose, who had served as police chief or police director during the relevant times. According to a federal judge's order and city council minutes, the case was resolved in July 2008, with the settlement including (a) a payment to Buono "not to exceed" $210,000; (b) the reinstatement of Buono to Senior Lieutenant, Step 4; and (c) the immediate promotion of Buono to Captain, Step 3.
Note: None of Buono's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. While the parties freely agreed to settle this case, all that is known for sure is that Newark, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Buono up to $210,000 and reinstate and promote him, than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial — it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened — or what consequences, if any, came to the individuals accused in the suit.