EAST ORANGE, NJ — According to attorney R. Armen McComber of the McComber & McComber P.C. law firm of Red Bank, at least 10 police officers currently on the job in the East Orange Police Department have filed lawsuits against the city, public safety Director Sheilah Coley, police Chief Phyllis Bindi, the East Orange Police Department and Inspector Tony Cook.
McComber is representing EOPD officers of varying rank, including Steven A. Plumer, Felix L. Cabrera, Anthony Rogers, Michael Williams, Anthony D. Ricks, Kia Brooks, Zachary S. Muse, John Bocchino, Calvin Anderson and Raymond Garcia. Although all the lawsuits name the city, EOPD, Coley, Bindi and Cook, they also include other ranking members of the department that are specific to the particular cases.
For instance, Plumer, Cabrera and Rogers are the plaintiffs in one lawsuit that names Anthony Peters, as well as the city of East Orange, the EOPD, Coley, Bindi and Cook as defendants. Williams’ lawsuit names the city of East Orange, the EOPD, Coley, Bindi and Cook and defendants.
Ricks’ lawsuit names Berkeley Jest, along with the city of East Orange, the EOPD, Bindi and Cook. And Brooks, Muse and Bocchino are the plaintiffs in a suit against the city, the EOPD, Bindi, Jest and Cook, who are the defendants.
Meanwhile, Anderson’s lawsuit only names the city of East Orange, the EOPD and Cook as defendants. Although all the lawsuits are separate and independent, such as Brooks’ allegation that she was groped by Cook, McComber said they all do have some aspects and some individuals’ names in common.
“I’ve never had 10 plaintiffs on a case in my life. I never had 10 cops agree on anything,” said McComber on Thursday, April 26. “I have never seen such abuse of power and naked retaliation. It’s extraordinary.”
McComber said he is surprised more lawsuits have not been brought against the city and the EOPD. According to the attorney, veteran EOPD officers have been leaving the department to go work in other nearby towns, such as Irvington, Orange, Union Township, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and other departments they believe offer better working conditions.
“The morale problem that they’re having and the amount that they’re going to pay in these lawsuits is amazing,” said McComber.
City officials had no comment about the 10 lawsuits, but all the alleged abuses of power, mismanagement and callous behaviors occurred before Mayor Ted Green was elected in 2017.
“The city of East Orange declines to comment on pending litigation and/or personnel matters,” said city spokesperson Connie Jackson on Monday, May 21.
Sgt. Elaine Settle is the president of the EOPD Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 16 that represents the rank-and-file members of the department. She previously had legal run-ins with her superiors in the department, when former police Chief William Robinson was in command, and said she knows what’s it’s like to be on the receiving end of disciplinary action from superior officers.
Settle also said she understands why EOPD officers would feel the need to break the department’s chain of command by hiring an attorney to represent them in their lawsuits, and it has nothing to do with protecting and serving the public, the community or the citizens of the city of East Orange
“The complaints speak for themselves. The only other thing is that I, too, as well as retired Lt. Shena Grimes, have a lawsuit pending against the previous administration,” said Settle on Monday, May 21. “I don’t know what was done prior to their lawsuits being filed, but Lt. Shena Grimes and I went to the Mayor Robert Bowser administration and Mayor Lester Taylor to advise them of the abuse of power … but we got no relief, so we had to no other choice but to file a lawsuit.”
Officer Craig Epps, president of EOPD Fraternal Order of Police Local 111, which also represents the rank-and-file members of the department, could not be reached for comment about the 10 lawsuits filed by officers by press time this week.