BLOOMFIELD, NJ — In a recently concluded jury trial in Newark Superior Court, two Bloomfield Police Department officers were awarded a combined $1 million from a lawsuit against the township and department.
Michael McCracken was awarded $75,000 in compensation and $400,000 in punitive damages while Hector Cartagena was awarded $125,000 compensation and $400,000 in punitive damages. The township is responsible for all payments, including attorney fees, which were not provided by the law firm. The officers were represented by attorneys Kevin Barber and Catherine Elston.
The trial stemmed from a complaint by the officers that they had been targeted for harassment and discrimination in the department since 2011 because they were veterans and military reservists. In court papers, the officers alleged systematic abuse.
“It is no coincidence that from January 2011 to December 2013, three Bloomfield police officers who were veterans and/or former or active members of the Armed Services, were terminated from employment,” the court document said.
The officers also alleged that the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office had been asked to investigate them for a falsely alleged theft relating to their military time off. The allegations included the misrepresentation of facts and conducting “sham” investigations to discredit McCracken and Cartagena. Both officers had also been suspended following an Internal Affairs investigation. No one else was named in the settlement.
In an email, Elston said, “We have a duty to honor all those who choose to serve our country. Unfortunately, officers McCracken and Cartagena were not honored or respected. They were, instead, punished for their service. What happened to them is unconscionable. The discrimination they endured should never be condoned against any veteran, anywhere.”
In an email, Township Administrator Matt Watkins said the township was pleased with the outcome of the trial.
“However, since there still are post-trial motions in process, it would be inappropriate to provide any further comment at this time,” he said.