NJ cop gets $380K settlement after political ticket-fix scandal
DOVER — A police officer will retire from his $121,000 salary job and collect almost $400,000 as part of a settlement with the town after he claimed he faced retaliation for issuing a ticket to two well-connected people during a traffic stop.
Patrolman Timothy Thiel reached a settlement after filing a lawsuit against the town and the police department. In the lawsuit, Thiel said the issues started around November 2011 when he pulled over a car that turned out to be driven by a campaign worker for Mayor James Dodd with Alderwoman Carolyn Blackman. Thiel said the people in the car tried to use their positions to get out of a ticket but he issued one anyway.
Thiel said he later found out that the tickets had been dismissed without his knowledge. According to the suit, Thiel said officers in the Dover department are regularly notified when their summonses are dismissed. After notifying his superior officer, Sgt. Richard Gonzalez, Thiel's complaint was forwarded to the Morris County Prosecutor's Office. According to NJ.com, a letter from the prosecutor's office said the investigation "failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove any criminal act beyond a reasonable doubt."
As a result of the traffic stop, Thiel said that he was "the subject of repeated and ongoing retaliatory harassment by the Town of Dover and the Dover Police Department." That included, he said, being ignored by the mayor and other aldermen.
Thiel also claimed that in August 2013 he was told by Chief Harold Valentine that OEM Coordinator Richard Riley told him that Thiel "would never be promoted in this town." In September of that year he sent a memo to Town Administrator William Close about the discrimination and seeking protection under the state whistleblower law.
Following his memo, Thiel said Close did not take any action, including not conducting an interview of Thiel about the issue.
Thiel was also involved in another act of whistleblowing, according to the lawsuit. In 2014 Thiel said he informed Gonzalez that other officers were "stealing time" by either leaving work early or taking time off without going through proper reporting procedures.
After that report, Thiel said he was further ostracized from others in the department, including his and Gonzalez being left out of training. He also said he experienced more harassment through messages posted on a message board in the detective bureau. The messages, he said in the suit, often referred to topics like "trust, rumors and backstabbing."
On March 26, 2014, Thiel said he was informed he was off the detective squad because he "could not be trusted."
Thiel also said in his lawsuit that after mentioning to other officers in May 2014 that he would be submitting overtime hours for a training he was attending, an email was sent to all officers informing them that that was no longer department policy for "non-mandatory trainings." He said also in May that he was again moved to another unit where he would not be eligible to receive as much overtime.
Thiel said his issues came to a head around July 8, 2014, when he was called into a meeting with the chief and two lieutenants. The meeting, he said, was held in an interrogation room where he was placed in the corner, "thereby creating an atmosphere of intimidation."
He said he was "threatened with physical violence" and told "he was disrupting the department."
In the settlement agreed to by the town on June 5, it was agreed that Thiel would receive $320,000 to settle his claims. He was also paid $60,000 based on his accrued time as of June 30, and $2,500 opt-out payment for medical coverage. Thiel also agreed to retire July 1 after more than 17 years on the job.
The town did not admit to any wrongdoing.
As part of his settlement, Thiel received all his retirement benefits and was eligible to re-enroll in the the department's insurance program.
In a story on NJ.com, Thiel said it was "an absolute pleasure and honor to serve the residents of the town of Dover for the past 13 years."
Business Administrator Donald Travisano said on NJ.com that the town and the department have changed since Thiel's complaints were filed.
"The force has changed from an old school reactionary one with leadership challenges, mired in controversy and stagnancy, to a community oriented police department proactive by mandate," Travisano said. "Gone are the days of a department wrought with deceit, confrontation and retaliation. Today, merit is earned through hard work and initiative."
Information about the settlement was first reported by open records act proponent John Paff.
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Contact reporter Adam Hochron at 609-359-5326 or Adam.Hochron@townsquaremedia.com