Demoted Police Chief Files Federal Suit Against Matawan
The suit, filed May 7, accuses the borough of age and racial discrimination against Alston
Former Matawan Police Chief James Alston filed charges May 7 against the borough in United States District Court, alleging several instances of age and race discrimination throughout his career and asking that his case be heard by a jury.
Alston, who is the only African American and the oldest officer in the department, was demoted two ranks during a special action meeting in July 2011 to the rank of lieutenant. Alston became a police officer in Matawan in 1974 and was promoted to the rank of chief in July 2008.
"The federal suit alleges various actions that were taken by the borough against Alston because of three reasons: because of his race, because of his age, and because he filed a complaint with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)," said David Corrigan, Alston's attorney.
The borough's attorney, Matthew Giacobbe of Cleary, Giacobbe, Alfieri, Jacobs, LLC in Matawan, was not immediately available for comment.
In the suit, obtained by Patch from Corrigan, Alston alleges that the borough offered him less favorable contract terms than younger, white officers in the department; alleges that disciplinary charges filed against him were false; alleges that the borough had no basis to demote him; and alleges that the department continues to humiliate him by not returning his weapons to him now that he is no longer on leave.
The suit alleges that in 2005, Robert McGowan was promoted to chief of police and alleges that Alston was not given an opportunity to interview for the position. It also alleges that McGowan received a five-year contract that included a yearly salary increase of 4%. Alston alleges that he was not offered a five-year contract, but was instead offered a one-year contract that was not renewed after it expired until he filed a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) even though during the time of the expiration, he was promoted to chief.
The suit also accuses the borough, specifically Mayor Paul Buccellato and former Borough Administrator William Garofalo, of allegedly retaliating against Alston for filing the EEOC complaint by lodging complaints against Alston with the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office in 2009 and again in 2010.
According to a complaint filed by Alston on July 20, 2011, on June 17, 2010, Matawan Borough Administrator William Garofalo filed disciplinary charges against Alston on behalf of the borough, including incapacity, misconduct, disobedience of the rules and regulations set forth by the government for the police department and force, conduct unbecoming of a public official, neglect of duty, incompetency, inefficency or failure to perform duties, and misuse of public property including motor vehicles.
Several of the charges stem from an Oct. 2009 incident, when Alston allegedly responded to a large crowd on Orchard Street while off duty and encountered a man he had previously arrested on drug charges, Anthony Gray. Gray accused Alston of allegedly imprisoning him without cause and flicking cigaratte ashes on him.
The charges were investigated by the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office, but were dismissed for lack of evidence, according to Corrigan. The borough held it's own administrative hearing, which resulted in Alston's demotion and ten-day suspension without pay in July 2011.
The federal suit argues that the borough's hearing, which was held after the Prosecutor's Office dismissed the case, is an example of the alleged continued discrimination against Alston. Alston contests his demotion in the suit, alleging that the charges that led to his demotion were false.
In September 2011, a civil lawsuit was filed against Alston, five Matawan police officers and five Borough officials or employees on behalf of Gray, accusing the officers and officials of violating Gray's Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Those charges were later dropped by Gray and the borough gave him $7,500, the federal suit says.
In a separate legal action, Alston filed an appeal to have his demotion reversed. That case will go to court on July 23, 2012. The suit contends that the borough allegedly made it challenging for him to return to work after his suspension in July 2011 and obstructed him from regaining his firearms when he returned to work in Feb. 2012, preventing him from returning to full duty.
Currently, Lt. Jason Gallo remains the commanding officer of the Matawan Borough Police Department. Alston's suit demands that he be reinstated as chief of police with full fringe benefits and seniority or "front pay" in lieu of of reinstatement. He also requests back pay for his suspension and demotion and restoration of personal, vacation and sick leave used before being restored to full duty.