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North Brunswick officer files lawsuit alleging racist culture in department

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NORTH BRUNSWICK – When North Brunswick Police Officer Michael Campbell, who is African American, came to the department in 2002, it was “immediately clear” he was not welcome because of the color of his skin, according to a lawsuit he has filed against the department.

“At the start of his career, Officer Campbell was subjected to ostracization by the
clannish majority,” the complaint alleges. “Officer Campbell was referred to by use of the ‘N’ word, and his white colleagues who were present, offered no support.”

Campbell alleges in the lawsuit he heard many off-color jokes, clearly intended to intimidate and alienate him, while simultaneously serving to cement the relationships of those who expressed racial bigotry and separatism.

James Alexander Lewis V, of Pennington Law Group, South Orange, who represents Campbell, filed the lawsuit in state Superior Court, New Brunswick, on Dec. 20 against Campbell’s employer, the North Brunswick Police Department (NBPD), as well as Police Director Kenneth McCormick, Deputy Police Chief Joseph Battaglia, Lt. William Bonura and Capt. Cory Harris for their alleged unlawful harassment of Campbell and for the hostile work environment created by his superior officers.

Campbell, in the lawsuit, alleges McCormick, Battaglia and Bonura aided and abetted the hostile work environment and Harris “openly and regularly exhibited racially motivated bias” toward him, which included referring to him as “an angry black man.”

“There was and continues to be a dearth of black police officers,” the complaint alleges. “The vast majority of the workforce was and remains male and Caucasian. The work environment had the look and feel of an ‘old boys’ network.”

In response to the lawsuit, North Brunswick Business Administrator Kathryn Monzo said, “Unfortunately, we cannot comment on matters involving litigation.”

Campbell is seeking compensatory relief for injuries, including humiliation and emotional distress damages, he has suffered. The relief also includes his superior officers be enjoined from engaging in a continuing hostile work environment and all employees in Campbell’s division undergo sensitivity training, cultural awareness training, and anti-discrimination training.

Campbell, a 17-year veteran of the police department, began his career in law enforcement in 1994 with the Irvington Police Department, Essex County. He joined the North Brunswick Police Department with nearly eight years of law enforcement experience.

“It was made clear that personal information regarding Officer Campbell was leaked to other officers in an attempt to harass and malign Officer Campbell into returning to the Irvington Police Department,” the complaint alleges. “Additionally, members of the North Brunswick Police Department and the PBA (Police Benevolent Association) opposed the minority recruitment efforts and Officer Campbell’s joining the department.”

Campbell had sought employment through an intergovernmental transfer program, which permitted the transfer of officers from inner city police departments to suburban departments in efforts to increase minority recruitment.

“Then and now, the North Brunswick Police Department resisted attempts to integrate and diversify the police department,” the complaint alleges. “Throughout Officer Campbell’s career, his white colleagues were given preferential treatment.”

Campbell alleges he was overlooked for positions where he was clearly the most qualified. He said he was transferred to patrol from the juvenile division with no legitimate basis for the transfer.

“In this hostile environment, it was no surprise to learn that there was a sense of collegiality and entitlement among the Caucasian workers that was difficult to penetrate, and which proved dangerous to minority officers,” the complaint alleges.

Campbell alleges he was subjected to racist and racially charged language, including inappropriate nicknames due to his background, and was made the victim of threatening behavior by his “brother” officers.

When Campbell was subjected to physical threat and harm from white citizens, he alleges his white colleagues failed to provide appropriate back-up, leaving him to fend for himself.

Additionally, Campbell alleges he was forced to secure legal intervention on multiple occasions in order to be provided with services from the department that were routinely and expeditiously provided to white officers including tuition reimbursement.

When Campbell complained about unequal treatment of black officers, he alleges he was told the black officers “should be grateful we hired you guys.”

A representative from the police department could not be reached by press time.

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