Long Hill, NJ police chief plans to sue over anti-Muslim comments
LONG HILL — One of the state’s first Muslim police chiefs has announced he plans to sue the township and some of its elected leaders, accusing them of harassment and a hostile work environment.
Ahmed Naga, 44, has been Long Hill police chief since August 2018 after having served as acting chief since February 2018. He worked his way up the ranks after being hired as a patrolman with the force in 2003.
In his notice of tort claim, Naga said he has endured ongoing and repeated acts of harassment, discrimination and heightened scrutiny.
While attending a Sept. 11 memorial service last year, Naga said that Deputy Mayor Guy Piserchia – who was mayor at the time – asked if he was “a member of the Taliban.”
Months earlier, according to the tort notice, Naga was in a meeting with Piserchia and Township Councilman Victor Verlezza when remarks were made including a reference to the Muslim holy month of worship, Ramadan, as “Ramadama-dingdon.”
Piserchia was accused of saying in that same April 2021 meeting, “Had I known you were Muslim, I would have never promoted you.”
Naga also said that during a phone call in December of last year, Verlezza called him a racist slur for people of Middle Eastern descent.
“Our client has been humiliated on the job for a few years now, simply because of his race/ethnic heritage,” attorney Patrick Toscano said in a written statement sent to New Jersey 101.5 on Friday.
“His work product and record as Chief of Police is nothing other than pristine and first rate, yet it is evident that certain persons in power there in LHT are both xenophobic and unwilling to accept his religious beliefs – and that is unfortunate, puerile and just plain foolish, not to mention unashamedly illegal,” Toscano said.
On Thursday, the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the anti-Muslim comments that Naga said were directed at him, calling them “entirely unacceptable.”
“Asking someone whether they are part of the Taliban — at a 9/11 service, no less — is not only insensitive but also a dangerous leading question,” CAIR-NJ Executive Director Selaedin Maksut said in a written release.
Maksut called on current Long Hill Mayor Matthew Dorsi to support Naga, adding “We also look forward to seeing how litigation unfolds in the coming weeks, and hope that this establishes anti-discriminatory precedent moving forward.”
Another prominent Muslim law enforcement leader, Ibrahim Baycora, was appointed as Paterson Police Chief two years after Naga in February 2020.
Baycora was fired last month by Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, who called him "disengaged."
In turn, Baycora announced he was suing the city for a hostile work environment. He has claimed that Sayegh was retaliating for raising concerns about other officers submitting false time sheets, among other internal affairs concerns.