A former Hoboken police sergeant claims in a lawsuit filed last month that he wasn’t promoted to lieutenant prior to retiring after he reported the misconduct of two other ranking officers who were friends with the chief at the time.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“Over the course of his twenty-six (26) year career as Hoboken Police Officer, Plaintiff gave his all to the citizens of the City of Hoboken and to his coworkers. He prided himself on doing what was right, as well as standing up for what was right,” the 14-page whistleblower lawsuit filed in Hudson County Superior Court last month begins.
“On several occasions, he objected to and reported unlawful policies, practices, and violations of the law within the Hoboken Police Department. As a result of same, Plaintiff was subjected to unlawful retaliation in violation of CEPA.”
Nicholas Burke, who retired on June 1st, 2022 after nearly 27 years of service, makes strong allegations against several of his former colleagues, to which counsel for the city says they will be filing a motion to dismiss as soon as tomorrow.
The court filing alleges that on March 23rd, 2017, Burke and three Hoboken police officers were told by then-Chief Kenneth Ferrante that they were being promoted, with Burke specifically told he would be the Detective Sergeant of the Investigations Bureau by the end of the year following the retirement of Sgt. William Vera.
Personnel orders then indicated that the aforementioned officers would be promoted on March 27th and that Burke would be transferred to the midnight shift the following day, he contends in the lawsuit.
The day before he was promoted, Burke received an Employee Performance Notice from Capt. Daniel LoBue (who would serve as acting chief once Ferrante retired) that issued a written reprimand for insubordination.
After his promotion, Burke reported to the midnight shift, which he thought was unusual since “there were 16 other sergeants with considerably less seniority.”
That year, he logged the most hours of any Hoboken police officer through their Outside Employment Program (OEP), indicating in the suit that he was his family’s sole source of income, which caused friction with Ferrante since he earned more money than him.
The New Jersey Attorney General’s Office ended up conducting an audit of Burke’s OEP work, which he believed was initiated by Ferrante since it was around the same time he allegedly said he could “be left to die on the midnight [shift].”
The audit, which allegedly only looked into Burke’s off-duty work, found no wrongdoing, and despite this fact, Burke was not transferred to the investigations bureau when Vera retired in June 2018.
Throughout 2017 and 2018, Burke asserts, through his attorney Brian Schiller, that his superior at the time – Lt. James Peck – created a hostile work environment, which culminated in him berating Burke about how a suspect would be charged in a robbery and assault case.
As a result, Burke submitted a memorandum to the Professional Standards Bureau the next day over that exchange and at least one other incident, which eventually triggered an investigation by the Internal Affairs Unit where over 40 officers were interviewed.
According to the civil complaint, Peck and Ferrante are lifelong friends and the then-chief was “incensed” that Burke reported Peck to IAU and was ultimately the one who saved him from being terminated: he received a 90-day suspension instead.
“Upon information and belief, for the first time in the history of the Department, the
Superior Officers Association voted, and approved, to pay for Peck’s benefits during his period of suspension. Plaintiff and the other police officers who were victimized by Peck were never consulted prior to this vote taking place, nor were they present to vote,” Schiller wrote in the lawsuit.
“At the conclusion of his suspension at the end of November 2018, Ferrante returned Peck to the midnight shift where he was responsible to supervise all of the officers he victimized, including Plaintiff, as Peck was his direct supervisor.”
In January 2019, Burke asked Ferrante to be transferred to a shift away from Peck, which was granted. About two-and-a-half months later, he “was an integral part” of an effort that prevented a woman from being raped.
Capt. Charles Campbell, another friend of Ferrante’s, allegedly approached Burke aggressively about the incident and ended up throwing a book that hit him in the leg.
Burke reported the incident to a union representative, which triggered another IAU investigation, where this time over 50 officers were interviewed about “highly inappropriate conduct” from Campbell, the suit says.
“Upon information and belief, this investigation resulted in the allegations against Campbell being overwhelmingly sustained; however, Campbell was permitted to retire in good standing, without any charges and/or discipline being brought against him, in direct violation of the New Jersey Attorney General Guidelines concerning Internal Affairs Policies and Procedures,” Burke asserts in the lawsuit.
“Upon information and belief, allegations concerning Ferrante were raised through this investigation, and significant evidence was thereafter presented that Ferrante allowed, was aware of and fostered an utterly horrible and intolerable work atmosphere.”
Additionally, Burke took a written Civil Service Commission test to become a lieutenant back in October 2018 and finished seventh on the list.
While he was told by Ferrante in April 2019 he’d be among those promoted, promotions stalled in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and Burke was sent back to midnights in March 2021, about four months before Ferrante retired.
After LoBue took over as acting chief, the six sergeants ahead of Burke on the list were promoted to lieutenant in July 2021.
With Burke’s certification set to expire on May 2nd, 2022, he met with LoBue, his eventual successor, Steven Aguiar, and Business Administrator Jason Freeman on February 22nd, 2022.
Two days later, Freeman allegedly called Burke and told him he would be skipped in favor of Det. Sgt. Jonathan Mecka, who was ranked right behind him on the list and has 14 years of experience compared to 26 for Burke.
The next day, February 25th, Burke was notified by IAU that he was being investigated for neglect of duty. He ultimately received a written reprimand for failure to supervise and gave notice of his retirement a week later.
His final allegation says that Ferrante did not allow him to receive tuition reimbursement, which is against the superior officers’ collective bargaining agreement.
” … Upon information and belief, at the behest of Kenneth Ferrante, now Public Safety Director for the City, the City is actively attempting to prevent Plaintiff from receiving this reimbursement, and instead, spending thousands of dollars in legal bills above and
beyond the amount he owed.”
Overall, Burke is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, together with interest, costs of suit and attorney’s fees.
Ed Florio, a partner at Florio Kenny Raval, LLP who is representing the city in the matter, said Burke has already received a frivolous litigation notice and the city plans to hold him accountable for any expense to the taxpayers.
“Immediately upon reviewing the Complaint we served a frivolous litigation notice upon the plaintiff. We will be filing a Motion to Dismiss on behalf of the City as early as close of business tomorrow,” he said in a statement.
“We are confident that when the truth sees the light of day, this case will be decided in our favor. At that time we will seek from the plaintiff reimbursement for legal fees, costs, and expenses incurred, to the detriment of the Hoboken taxpayer.”