Fired Jersey City cop claims mental health deteriorated over shootings, questions discipline


A Jersey City police officer who was fired claims in a lawsuit that his mental health deteriorated after responding to various shootings, including an infamous domestic terrorism incident, questioning the discipline that led to his termination.

Former Jersey City Police Officer Jesse O’Brien. Facebook photo.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

The 63-page, eight-count lawsuit, filed in Hudson County Superior Court on January 17th goes into a ton of details about the career of Officer Jesse O’Brien and how he eventually got booted from the department.

The court filing begins by recalling the tragic day on December 10th, 2019 where Det. Jospeh Seals was one of four innocent lives claimed in a shootout at a kosher deli in Greenville, noting that O’Brien served on the honor guard during his funeral service.

“About two weeks later, on December 26, 2019, Plaintiff O’Brien was on duty and was himself involved in a critical incident during which an arrestee (James Bolden) fired a gun at Plaintiff O’Brien in the course of O’Brien making a lawful arrest. This had additional psychological impact on Plaintiff O’Brien which aggravated/exacerbated his prior psychological condition,” the suit asserts.

“Plaintiff O’Brien was told by his union members that he was placed on administrative leave effective that day, December 26, 2019 and told that he would be permitted to ‘take his time’ on administrative leave before returning to duty, to address any psychological effect the shooting incident may have had on Plaintiff O’Brien.”

After about a month of being on administrative leave, he was allegedly advised that he would either have to return to work or go on sick leave, in which case he would be have to remain on home confinement.

Furthermore, he was told he could not return to duty until he got clearance from a medical doctor and was not ever informed that he had the option to go on leave under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, the lawsuit contends.

“Plaintiff O’Brien was not referred by the Department for any psychological evaluation or treatment following the December, 2019 critical incidents, until he was later referred for fitness for duty evaluation to the Institute of Forensic Psychology in late September/ early October, 2022, at which time he was also served with administrative disciplinary charges which advised him that the JCPD sought to terminate his employment,” the suit says.

Through his attorney Todd J. Gelfand, of the Lindland-based firm Barker, Gelfand, and Sarvas, O’Brien said he was transferred from the South District to the East District after suffering a severe panic attack.

“On March 21, 2021, around 5:00 pm, Plaintiff was one of the first officers on scene for another shooting, this one in the area of Martin Luther King Blvd. and Woodlawn Avenue. The victim was seated in a minivan with multiple gunshot wounds to his torso and flank, bleeding heavily,” according to the lawsuit.

“Plaintiff removed the victim from the van and began chest compressions while blood shot out from the hole in his flank. Plaintiff and Officer Joe Casey kept trying to save the victim until the arrival of EMS. Immediately after, calls for service began backing up with dispatch and Plaintiff O’Brien was placed back in service with no break.”

He also allegedly responded to a building on Old Bergen Avenue a week later, where a man he was acquainted with was shot and was pronounced dead on the scene after being transported to the hospital.

Additionally, O’Brien claims that he was named “Employee of the Month” in October 2021 and became a union delegate for the Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association (POBA) at the end of the same year.

The court filing indicates that this led to conflict with Capt. Iris Cruz, which included a hostile work environment, differential treatment, and retaliation.

Also in October 2021, O’Brien was investigation by the internal affairs unit over an arrest that included a terroristic threat charge for saying something along the lines of “I’ll smoke you like a Newport cigarette, I’m gangster.”

The department felt the threat was improper since he did there was no “immediacy” related to the threat, though the relevant criminal statute did not use this language.

The lawsuit also details various other internal affairs charges brought up against O’Brien, ranging from an incident where a suspect was knocked to the ground, responding to an incident in another district after seeking approval, and not wearing a face mask during roll call in early 2022.

To that end, he was first told he was put on Early Warning System monitoring in May 2022, despite no bargaining unit present or union representative present, as well as no remediation or corrective action.

He was suspended without pay on October 6th, 2022 after being issued a Preliminary Notice of Disciplinary Action (PNDA) for using “unprofessional and offensive language” during an arrest on July 26th.

This matter was heard by the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, where O’Brien sought injunctive relief to be reinstated after using language that included “You are going to meet God” and “c****.”

“Regardless, there is nothing in the record that indicates that Jersey City has not conformed with the law and administrative code as O’Brien claims, and given that he is a law enforcement officer who is held to a higher standard, and the charges are serious in nature, Jersey City would be substantially harmed if his request was granted,” the ruling said.

“Finally, the public interest is best served by having an officer facing such serious charges off the job pending the outcome of the disciplinary process.”

However, a second civil service commission hearing said he was entitled to back pay between February 3rd, 2023 “until his reinstatement or issuance of a Final Notice of Disciplinary Action,” with his termination notice eventually coming on November 10th, 2023.

“To Plaintiff’s knowledge and belief, the hearing panel did not issue any recommended findings in writing, nor did anyone issue any written decision resulting from the hearing, other than to issue the termination notices,” the lawsuit states.

“There was no apparent weighing and sifting of the evidence presented at the hearing, neither in writing from the hearing board, nor on behalf of whomever made the final decision for the City.”

As a result, O’Brien is asking the court to enforce the administrative order, claiming he was discriminated against a person with a disability, wrongful termination, violation of the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, along with violating protected free speech and whistleblower laws.

He is seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages, counsel fees, interest, and costs of suit, as well as any relief the court deems just and equitable.

A city spokeswoman said the city does not typically comment on pending litigation.

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