CARTERET - A borough police captain is alleging he has been harassed by the borough and the police department in retaliation for reporting and failing to comply with actions by his superiors he believed to be in violation of regulations and policy.
In the lawsuit filed Dec. 1, 2022 in Middlesex County Superior Court, Capt. Robert Wargocki, who has served with the Carteret Police Department since December 2003, alleged unlawful reprisals under the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act.
In the lawsuit, Wargocki argues he was transferred from the detective bureau to the patrol division, berated by the chief for being "too thorough" in a use of force investigation, changed his work hours which resulted in being unable to work a side job the department had approved, passed over for a promotion to the rank of deputy chief, and relieved of his position as active shooter liaison - all because he has filed complaints about his department superiors.
The lawsuit also alleges Wargocki was served with false disciplinary charges.
The actions taken against Wargocki allegedly stem in part from his initiation of a complaint about Chief Dennis McFadden apparently mishandling excessive force complaints and failing to properly run background checks for local gun purchases.
In addition, Wargocki refused to disclose the names of all the police department's confidential informants when Kenneth Lebrato, the director of internal affairs, requested them.
Lebrato was appointed to his position around the same time excessive force charges were pending against the mayor's brother Joseph Reiman, the lawsuit states.
In 2019 Joseph Reiman, a borough police officer who was initially charged with aggravated assault and official misconduct, was acquitted of all charges in connection with allegedly assaulting a 16-year-old boy following a May 2017 vehicle pursuit.
Mayor Daniel Reiman called Warnocki's lawsuit "totally without merit and frivolous" and said it contains factual inaccuracies and "self-serving nonsense."
"Any discipline with which Wargocki has been charged pursuant to Civil Service rules, and for which he has been found guilty to date, has been for his insubordination arising from his failure to follow direct orders of his supervisors and failure to perform his assigned duties. Wargocki is now making false claims against virtually every supervisor he has had in an attempt to deflect from his own misfeasance. Unfortunately, he is of the belief that any person in a supervisory position who seeks to hold him accountable for his actions is somehow harassing him," Reiman said in a statement.
"The only accurate information contained in Mr. Wargocki's filing is that he was disciplined for violating Carteret Police Department rules and regulations and policies and procedures for disobeying direct orders on numerous occasions," Reiman said. "Furthermore, the Borough of Carteret cannot comment on any currently pending disciplinary actions that have been filed against Captain Wargocki."
The borough has received an extension until Feb. 17 to respond to the Wargocki's lawsuit, court records show.
According to Wargocki's lawsuit, in 2018 McFadden was promoted to the position of acting chief though he had not taken the chief's test. McFadden was later stripped of his duties by the county in part due to the investigation into his handling of excessive force complaints and the lack of background checks for local gun purchases. Wargocki believed McFadden's conduct was unlawful and initiated the complaint that led to the investigation.
"By making the complaint Wargocki engaged in CEPA (Conscientious Employee Protection Act) protected activity," the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit states Wargocki engaged in further CEPA activity by refusing to disclose the names of the police department's confidential informants to Lebrato, a former Middlesex County assistant prosecutor, whose request he believed violated regulations and policy. Wargocki was charged with insubordination and issued a three-day suspension, the lawsuit states.
Reiman said internal affairs oversight was returned to McFadden in June 2019.
When McFadden returned, he allegedly began to harass Wargocki because of his CEPA conduct, with comments about plans to make Wargocki's life uncomfortable. The chief also allegedly referred to Wargocki as "Capt. Keyboard" for regularly documenting department activities, the lawsuit states .
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Wargocki was transferred from the detective bureau to the patrol division and asked to look up the location of an officer the chief didn't like, but he refused, the lawsuit states.
In July 2021 McFadden allegedly berated Wargocki for being too thorough in his investigation into a use of force incident involving the department's Street Crimes Unit. Wargocki sent McFadden an email asking how the chief would like him to conduct future investigations, but the chief didn't respond, the lawsuit states.
The following month McFadden changed Wargocki's starting hours from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. which meant Wargocki was unable to work a side job the department had previously approved. Wargocki missed about eight days of the side job at which time McFadden said he could work the side job but would need to have his hours adjusted each time, the lawsuit states.
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Wargocki filed a complaint with the borough attorney and mayor in September 2021 alleging harassment and retaliation by McFadden and an internal affairs complaint was filed with the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office. The prosecutor's office investigation was unable to substantiate Wargocki's claims. McFadden continued to harass him, Wargocki's lawsuit states.
In March 2022 Wargocki and two others were eligible to be promoted to deputy chief, but he was never interviewed for the job and another candidate was selected. Later that month McFadden reassigned department vehicles and Wargocki was given a 2010 model while other units got newer unmarked vehicles, the lawsuit states.
Then in May 2022 Wargocki was relieved of his position as the active shooter liaison, a position he had held since 2016. In June and July 2022 he was issued three false internal affairs complaints, with additional false disciplinary charges in October 2022 and false internal affairs charge also in October 2022, the lawsuit alleges, adding Wargocki's CEPA-protected conduct played a role in those charges.
Suzanne Russell is a breaking news reporter for MyCentralJersey.com covering crime, courts and other mayhem. To get unlimited access, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: Carteret police captain alleges harassment in retaliation by chief in lawsuit
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