Monday, February 9, 2015

Stafford Police sergeant promotion exam challenged by two officers.

On September 24, 2014, two veteran Stafford Township (Ocean County) police officers sued the Township and Police Chief Joseph Giberson claiming that a promotional examination for the rank of Sergeant concluded in 2013 by the Stafford Township Police Department was "unlawful . . . arbitrary and capricious [and] manipulated by" Chief Giberson and Township officials.

According to a federal civil complaint filed by Stafford Police Officers David L. McVey and Drew G. Smith, sixteen officers applied for position of Sergeant in 2012.  The applicants underwent a two-part examination consisting of "Phase I" which was a multiple choice, written test and "Phase II" which was an evaluation by superior officers, including Chief Giberson.

Plaintiffs McVey and Smith placed 8th and 9th, respectively, after both parts of the exam were graded.  According to their complaint, Kenneth Schiattarella, Olev Allikmaa and James Haldenwang placed 1st, 2nd and 3rd, and were promoted to the rank of sergeant in July 2013. (Note: A Patch article here and an Asbury Park Press article here suggest that Haldenwang was not promoted and currently still holds the rank of patrolman.) The other contenders who made it through the exam process, along with their scoring ranks, were Neil McKenna (4th), Robert C. Conforti (5th), Jason R. Costello (6th), Joseph E. Mrazek (7th), Stephen Fessler(10th) and Robert H. Woodring (11th).

McVey and Smith claimed several problems with the manner in which the exam was conducted.  According to their lawsuit, in order to be eligible to take Phase II, one had to score in the top half of the Phase I portion. McVey and Smith claim that since sixteen officers took Phase I, only eight should have taken Phase II.  Yet, eleven officers took Phase II.  They also claimed that there was "little or no justification, baseline, or guidelines for how evaluators were instructed to base their grading decisions" which resulted in each evaluating superior officer being able to "use any system that they wanted or that they created on their own."  Also, they argued that Sergeant John Linck (who has since passed away), "possessed more first-hand knowledge of Plaintiffs' work performance than many of the other supervisors" but was ill on day of the evaluation and was not permitted to participate.

In response to McVey's and Smith's lawsuit, Giberson and the Township filed a counterclaim alleging that McVey and Smith filed their lawsuit "for the sole purpose of harassing" them.  They claim that the "sole justification" for McVey's and Smith's lawsuit "is that they were unhappy with the [Township's] decision not to promote them."  The Township and Giberson seek to compel McVey and Smith to pay the Township's attorney fees.

McVey and Smith are being represented by Mark B. Frost and Ryan M. Lockman of Philadelphia while the Township and Giberson are being represented by Jerry L. Dasti of Forked River.  The civil lawsuit, counterclaim and answer to counterclaim are on-line here.