A Union City police officer’s amended lawsuit, now in U.S. District Court, alleges that at least 11 cops with checkered pasts were promoted over him.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Juan Estrella, a 16-year veteran of the force who also had six years of prior experience at Hudson County corrections, filed an eight-count, 32-page complaint in Passaic County Superior Court in April alleging “bogus disciplinary accusations” prevented his promotion to sergeant, as only HCV reported.
An amended complaint, filed in U.S. District Court on July 6th, reiterates the same eight counts, but had an additional 10 pages, largely for anonymously outlining alleged misconduct of nearly a dozen colleagues who were previously promoted.
“The Union City Police Department has disproportionately promoted Officers with
major disciplinary records than Plaintiff, these officers names have been redacted to
protect the identity of the officers but does not eliminate the major disciplinary
records and acts of each,” the amended filing began.
However, the specifics of the new allegations were so contentious that filing was temporarily sealed today via an order from U.S. District Judge Cathy Waldor.
“Ordered that the parties shall meet and confer regarding the allegedly confidential
information contained in Plaintiff’s pleading and, on or before July 29, 2022, Plaintiff shall
publicly file a redacted version of that document, in which only the confidential information
contained therein has been redacted,” she wrote.
“By the same date, Defendants shall file a motion to maintain the unredacted version of that proposed pleading.”
The new, redacted version, which was first filed late Friday, indicates that one officer was subject of an incident that led to the city paying out a settlement that cost thousands of dollars, while two others were named in wrongful death suits.
The lawsuit goes on to say that the current chief, Nichelle Luster, mishandled a homicide case earlier in her career, resulting in the case being dismissed, and still managed to get promoted.
The other allegations made in the initial filing remain, largely contending that “light-skin officers” were promoted over Brown officers such as Estrella, who is of Dominican descent.
“Since 2014 when Chief Luster was then a Captain and assisted in decision-making and
since 2018 when Chief Luster became the Chief of Police, Chief Luster has harassed plaintiff by suspending him without cause, without conducting a full investigation, in violation of the New Jersey Attorney General Guidelines AG Directive 2019-5, the internal affairs policy and procedures, and the agreement between the City of Union City and New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association Union City Local Number 8,” the suit says.
The court filing still names the Union City Police Department, Mayor Brian Stack, also the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, as plaintiffs.
Stack allegedly told Estella he would be promoted to sergeant in August 2021, but by February 2022 he said Luster did not want to promote him and it was ultimately her decision.
Overall, Estrella argues that he had his civil rights violated, which is also a violation of state law, his equal protection and due process were violated, faced breach of contract and promise – along with legal misrepresentation/fraud.
Furthermore, he asserts he was a victim of employment harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and retaliation.
As a result, he is seeking an injunction permanently barring the defendants from such conduct, removing all reports from his personnel file, having his suspension days returned, and compensation for various damages, as well as awarding the costs of attorney’s fees.
Luster declined to comment, noting that the city does not comment on pending litigation.