Former Princeton police officer reaches settlement with municipality

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A former officer in the Princeton Police Department has agreed to accept $100,000 in return for dropping his part in a discrimination lawsuit that he and six other current and former officers brought against the police department, the municipality and the former police chief five years ago.

Princeton Council members voted 5-0 on Nov. 19 to approve the settlement with Steven Riccitello, a former sergeant who has since retired. He claimed, among other things, that former Police Chief David J. Dudeck used to demean him by using sexually graphic language in front of other officers.

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In August 2013, the seven plaintiffs sued in state Superior Court, alleging that Dudeck disparaged them about their sexual orientation, made crude sexual references and mocked one officer who had testicular cancer, among other allegations. The lawsuit also named the town and the police department as defendants in the case.

“I’m not going to comment on the settlement until it is actually agreed to by the council,” said Matthew A. Peluso, the attorney for Riccitello and the other plaintiffs, in a phone interview on Nov. 19 before the council meeting. “And then, there still has to be settlement documents that have to be negotiated and signed.”

Princeton’s insurance carrier will pay most of the settlement, municipal Administrator Marc D. Dashield said on Nov. 19. The town will have to pay about $33,000, part of which will go toward paying a portion of the settlement and the rest covering legal costs, he said.

Dashield said officials are limited in the amount of information they can release with the case still pending.

“We’ve got a number of other people involved in this lawsuit, so there’s not a lot more we can tell you in terms of the details because we’re still in litigation and working diligently to try to settle with a number of the individuals involved in this lawsuit,” Dashield said before the council meeting.

“We’re making this settlement based on the analysis of the insurance carrier, our attorney working on this case really reviewing it. We believe that to reduce the expenses, the settlement is the recommended course of action at this point,” he said.

The case is scheduled to go on trial in Superior Court, Trenton, on Feb.4.

“As far as the other plaintiffs, everything is still going forward,” Peluso said.

Though no longer a plaintiff, Riccitello will be “a fact witness in the case, because he’s got knowledge of everything Dudeck and the town have done,” Peluso said.

Mayor Liz Lempert declined to comment about the matter.

“We’re still in litigation on this,” she said on Nov. 19.

Of the seven original plaintiffs, two continue to work for the police department, Daniel Chitren and Christopher P. Donnelly. The other five, Riccitello, Sharon Papp, Carol Raymond, Michael Bender and Christopher Quaste, retired from the force.

Dudeck, the chief of the former Princeton Borough Police Department, was named in 2012 to be the police chief of the consolidated police force when Princeton Borough and Princeton Township merged.

Shortly into Dudeck’s tenure in 2013, the police union accused him of administrative misconduct. He subsequently went on medical leave and took a deal from the municipality to retire later that year.

Though the union dropped the matter, the officers sued Dudeck, the town and the police department later in the year. Their lawsuit was one of the discussion topics the council members had for their closed session meeting on Nov. 19, before the open session meeting when officials voted on the settlement.

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