Sunday, January 27, 2013

Absecon Police Officer April Kolakowski: Perennial victim or a troublemaker?

According to a December 28, 2012 Press of Atlantic City article ("Police Officer sues Absecon, alleges procedural violation," by Derek Harper), Absecon Police Officer April M. Kolakowski filed suit against the City of Absecon seeking to overturn disciplinary penalties imposed upon her.  Kolakowski's lawsuit, which was filed by Attorney John C. Eastlack of Cherry Hill, is captioned Kolakowski v.; City of Absecon, Docket No. ATL-L-7953-12 and is available on-line here.

According to her suit, Kolakowski (formerly April Van Daley) started with the Absecon Police Department in 2003 as a dispatcher and became a patrol officer in 2008.  She alleges that disciplinary charges were filed against her on September 29, 2009 but that she wasn't afforded a hearing until June 1, 2012.  Kolakowski's lawsuit does not mention the nature of the charges against her or the discipline imposed.  The Press article, however, states that the disciplinary charges arose out an "encounter" Kolakowski had with Absecon Emergency Services Chief Rich Hudson after a tenant at a local motel allegedly received inadequate medical care. 

This is the third time Kolakowski has employed the courts to resolve disputes.   

The 2001 Lawsuit:


In 2001, she filed a lawsuit against Somers Point Police Chief Orville F. Mathis and others alleging sexual harassment and retaliation. (Van Daley v. Richard Cohen Associates, et al, Docket No. ATL-L-1262-01)

In this suit, Kolakowski, who was hired in March 1999, alleged that since she was the first and only female officer at the time, male police officials conspired to have her removed from the department.  They accomplished this, she said, through humiliation, the filing of bogus disciplinary charges and requiring her to undergo a "fitness for duty psychological evaluation." She claimed that the evaluation was not genuine but a pretext to allow officials to documented fabrications that would support their quest to have her fired.

Kolakowski said that senior police officers John Divel and Salvatore Armenia, "abused the [supervisory] authority" they had over her "so as to discriminate against [her]."  For example, Divel, her squad supervisor, allegedly demonstrated a "sexist attitude" toward her, "deliberately humiliat[ed] [her] on the radio" and required her to follow rules to which no male officer was required to follow. Armenia, she claimed, told her "that if she had to utilize the restroom facilities while on duty, she must expressly ask permission to do so and could do so only in the police department." 

Her suit further alleged that Chief Mathis ordered her to go to the "fitness for duty psychological evaluation" which was conducted by Richard Cohen, Ph.D.  During those sessions, Cohen allegedly asked Kolakowski about "intimate sexual details of her life," including whether she ever "made out" with Divel.  She claimed that Mathis "hand-picked" Cohen as the evaluator because he knew "that he would willingly shape his opinion or testimony so as to provide the maximum harm to [Kolakowski's] position."

Kolakowski's suit, which was filed by Cherry Hill attorney Clifford L. Van Syoc, settled on September 23, 2013 for $180,000.  The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

(Mathis, who was born in 1942, retired in 2007 and is collecting an $87,349 annual pension. Divel, who was born in 1959, retired in 2011 and is collecting a $62,314 annual pension. Armenia became chief in 2007 after Mathis retired.  He since retired effective December 31, 2011.  In 2011 he collected an annual salary of $142,948.)

The 2005 Lawsuit:

On October 4, 2005, Kolakowski filed a lawsuit against the City of Absecon alleging that the City, despite promises to the contrary, refused to give her a position as a police officer because of the earlier lawsuit she filed against Somers Point.  (Van Daley v. City of Absecon, et al, Docket No. ATL-L-6532-05.)

In the 2005 suit, Kolakowski alleged that Absecon hired her as a police dispatcher in August of 2003 after she had "resigned in good standing" from the Somers Point Police Department.  After a year as working as a dispatcher, she applied for an opening as a full time Absecon Police Officer.  She alleges that Police Chief Charles J. Smith told her that she was "just edged out" by another candidate.  Yet, Smith, according to the lawsuit, refused to show Kolakowski the list of the candidates' rankings.

Thereafter, she applied for another police officer position.  This time, she alleged that she was promised the position.  But, she alleged, Sergeant David Risley and "Henchy" (presumably Officer Robert Henchy), after speaking with a Somers Point officer, determined that Kolakowski was a "troublemaker" and that it would be "a mistake" to hire her.  Ultimately, Joyce H. Lee, an Asian female, was hired instead of Kolakowski even though she was allegedly not qualified for the position. 

Kolakowski's suit settled on March 5, 2008.  Kolakowski received $40,000 for "emotional distress" and her attorney, Clifford L. Van Syoc, received $55,000.  Kolakowski was also allowed to become a Probationary Police Officer and was given a one-month paid leave of absence "as an expression of good faith" so that she could be "fully prepared for the Police Academy." The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

(Chief Smith retired at age 53 in 2008, and at the time of this retirement, he was given a 18.9 increase in his pay and his pension, which brought his salary to $104,698 and his pension to $51,342. He was also given a check for $281,874 for unused sick, vacation and personal time.  David Risley, who made $92,592 in 2011, became Absecon's police chief in March 2012 after former chief Joseph J. Cowan abruptly retired on February 1, 2012 at age 48.  Before his retirement, Cowan made $128,700 in 2011.  Robert Henchy retired in 2011, at age 48, at a final salary of $93,676. He will receive an annual pension of $60,889. Joyce Lee was promoted to sergeant in April 2012, and made $81,543 in 2011.)