A police lieutenant has filed a lawsuit against the city alleging he was suspended for complaining about alleged racist remarks made by a fellow police officer, according to a complaint filed in federal court.
In his lawsuit, lieutenant Washington Griffin claims he was retaliated against for seeking an investigation into remarks made by police officer Giuseppe Giordano. He claims rumors began to circulate on August 9th, 2015 that Giordano, after learning he would be transferred to a shift where Kelly Pacelli, an African-American sergeant, would be his supervisors, allegedly remarked: “I don’t take orders from niggers.”
“My client denies the allegations,” Joel Miklacki, attorney for Giordano, said on Thursday afternoon. “The allegations against my client was dismissed.” He said a judge issued an order removing his client from the case.
Three days later, Griffin learned other officers at the Internal Affairs had heard the alleged remark, but took no action to investigate the matter. He heard Giordano would be transferred to the Property Division without an investigation.
Giordano, who worked at cellblock, was transferred to the Property Division the next day. Griffin submitted a report to chief William Fraher about the transfer and the alleged racist comment urging the now former chief to open an investigation into the statements.
Griffin went on a pre-planned almost month long vacation. Upon his return, he learned sergeant Manny Hernandez was assigned to investigate the alleged racist comments. He inquired about the status of the investigation and Hernandez told him the investigation was still occurring, according to the lawsuit.
The lieutenant subsequently learned that Carlos Santiago, a civilian employee who worked as a police aide in cellblock, told Internal Affairs he had heard the alleged remark made by Giordano aimed at Pacelli, who has been working in the department since 2001, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit says Santiago indicated that Giordano stated he “hates niggers” and that he regularly makes racist jokes.
Moreover, Santiago indicated Giordano also “regularly makes racist jokes about Puerto Ricans,” claims the lawsuit. In one remark, Giordano advocated for the United States to bomb Puerto Rico, reads the lawsuit.
Griffin claims in the lawsuit he learned from others in the department that Giordano refers to himself as the “supreme leader.”
On September 15th, 2015, Santiago was transferred to the Department of Public Works following his statement to the Internal Affairs. He was placed on duty there as a garbage truck driver. After learning about the transfer, Griffin approached captain Richard Reyes, sergeant Rick Botbyl, and detective Priscilla Caraballo.
Reyes was the head of the Internal Affairs at the time while Griffin was second in command.
Griffin told Reyes and others that Santiago’s transfer and Giordano’s lack of discipline “must mean that the PPD administration agrees with Giordano’s comments” since the only person who heard the comment was moved out of the police department.
This sparked a dispute between Reyes and Griffin. This interaction is described in Griffin’s lawsuit as “hostile” and “confrontational.” Reyes suspended Griffin for insubordination, claims the lawsuit.
Griffin was suspended for 30 days, according to his attorney Mark Frost, who has taken on other high profile cases in the city including the Aslon Goow, Sr. and the Jeffrey Heffernan lawsuits.
“He complained about Giordano. No action has been taken against Giordano to this day,” said Frost. He said Griffin’s allegations have been corroborated by other African-American police officers in the department.
“My personal opinion is that there’s systemic racial discrimination in the police department,” said Frost. He said racist messages have appeared targeting Griffin and other black officers on the bathroom wall of the Paterson Police Department.
Police director Jerry Speziale at first declined to comment on the lawsuit referring comments to the city’s lawyer. The lawsuit names Giordano, Reyes, and Fraher.
A representative for Florham Park-based Gordon and Rees, which is representing the former chief and the city, did not respond to a call for comment on Wednesday.
Speziale later responded to the accusation of “systemic racial discrimination” within his department.
“There’s no systemic racism. I’d not stand for that. There’s no room for it,” said Speziale. “We pride ourselves in our diversity.”
Frost cited a consent decree from some years ago that forced Paterson and some other municipalities in New Jersey to give priority promotions for sergeant rank to minorities. This resulted from allegations of race discrimination in the civil service exams for police sergeants.
Pacelli, the target of Giordano’s alleged remarks, was one of those priority promotions, said Frost. A number of African-American officers were promoted through priority status in civil service promotional list for sergeants, according to the lawsuit.
“In response, white officers have written racist messages around PPD headquarters pertaining to the promotions of African-Americans,” reads Griffin’s lawsuit.
The messages include: “Priority = dumb+ lazy” and “Priority lazy scum” and “Loose [sic] 3 Sgts, get 2 fake ones” and “Speak English, savage” and “I is dumb. Cans I be a Sgt. too now. Fuck Cheaters” and “Do you honestly believe you should have gotten stripes?”
The lawsuit further states police officers posted on social media: “I have MLK Blvd and Rosa Parks Blvd, so you know how busy I am.” The officers lost 8 hours of leave time for posting this remark that alleges more crime occurs in predominantly black areas of the city.
“Washington Griffin is possibly one of the most upstanding officers that we’ll ever have,” said councilman Michael Jackson, chairman of the public safety committee. Griffin has been with the police department since 1989, according to city records.
Jackson said Griffin has an unblemished disciplinary record. He felt Griffin’s suspension was unfair. Griffin was hailed as a hero in 2009 for intervening when a man fired shots at his own two sons, one fatally, and estranged wife on Broadway.
Griffin was off-duty and with his son at a restaurant on Broadway when he saw what was occurring and acted. Griffin shot and killed the man, according to news accounts and city officials.
When asked about the systemic racism allegation, Jackson said, “I wouldn’t say the entire department. There’s bad apples in every bunch that’s not to say it doesn’t exist. It’s not the entire department.”
Neither Reyes nor Giordano returned messages for comments for this report.
A settlement conference has been scheduled for the hitherto unreported lawsuit filed in November of 2015 for next week, said Frost.
This report was updated on May 18th, 2017 at 1:47 p.m.