N.J. mayor pressured cops to fix traffic tickets, harassed officers, police leaders say in suit

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The Spotswood police chief and captain are suing the borough and its mayor alleging the mayor created a hostile work environment over the past decade, including when he pressured police to fix tickets issued to his children.

Chief Michael Zarro and Captain Philip Corbisiero, both 27-year veterans of the force, filed the suit on Monday in Superior Court of Middlesex County against Mayor Ed Seely, and business administrator Dawn McDonald, accusing both of official misconduct over a period of several years.

The suit claims Seely pressured police officers to dismiss tickets, including two issued to Seely’s son for careless driving and one issued to his daughter, and tried to impede internal affairs investigations into officers he was friends with. The suit was first reported by mycentraljersey.com.

“(Seely and McDonald) have worked in tandem to jeopardize (Zarro and Corbisiero) respective positions within the department and their future in law enforcement due to wrongful, retaliatory motives,” the suit says.

A Borough investigation into McDonald and Seely found no evidence of harassment despite “overwhelming proof,” the suit claims.

McDonald told NJ Advance Media she was placed on leave as the investigation was conducted, from the end of July through the end of December 2019. She said the borough cleared her of any wrongdoing, and declined to comment further.

Seely did not respond to NJ Advance Media’s request for comment Thursday afternoon. He was elected mayor in November 2016 after serving for 12 years on the borough council.

Zarro, who was promoted to chief in January 2014, says he has been subject to a hostile work environment for the past decade, and Corbisiero, who was promoted to captain in October 2015, said he experienced the same dating back five years.

The issues began in November 2007, when Zarro conducted an internal affairs investigation into an officer who was friends with Seely, the suit says. Seely tried to impede the investigation, and began to “disdain” Zarro, the suit says. The lawsuit also detailed the tickets issued to Seely’s children and his efforts to have them dismissed. The first ticket was in October 2009.

The suit claims McDonald, the business administrator, was also hostile towards Corbisiero after he issued a traffic ticket to Seely’s daughter. The suit claims McDonald retaliated against Corbisero by instructing a payroll clerk to revoke his ability to receive overtime.

In 2017, Spotswood started the process of entering into a shared services agreement with Helmetta to police the neighboring town. While funds from that agreement were supposed to go toward police, the suit claims Seely used the funds to award contracts and pave roads in an attempt to make himself more popular in town.

Seely also wanted to place GPS in all Spotswood police cars to track their movements through Helmetta, the suit says.

“Plaintiff Zarro adamantly refused to take any part in this plan as it would have compromised logistics and officer safety and constituted a violation of existing policies and practices,” the suit says. Zarro reported that request to the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s office and the New Jersey State Association of Police Chiefs, the suit says.

The ongoing conflict resulted in unfair contract negotiations for Zarro and Corbisiero, the suit says.

Katie Kausch may be reached at kkausch@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KatieKausch. Find NJ.comon Facebook.

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