After ‘ejaculation’ harassment lawsuit, NJ cop promoted — and faces new trouble
EAST ORANGE — A year after the city approved a $200,000 settlement to end a lawsuit accusing a cop of masturbating over a woman’s home furniture, the department promoted the officer to one of the highest ranking positions on the force.
Now that officer is facing new legal trouble after yet another female cop accused him of sexually harassing and assaulting her at the police headquarters.
Officer Kia Brooks says Inspector Tony Cook grabbed her, fondled her, and tried to kiss her last September when they were both alone in an elevator.
A month later, Brooks filed her lawsuit in Superior Court after she says officials refused to take action against Cook.
Since then, two more plaintiffs have joined her lawsuit, with a fourth expected to sign on this month, Brooks' attorney, R. Armen McOmber, said Wednesday. McOmber believes even more officers may come forward as the case progresses.
“It’s just incredible that the East Orange Police Department and City Council have blinders on when it comes to the behavior of this officer,” McOmber said.
The most recent amendment to Brooks' lawsuit adds her uncle, Capt. Zachary S. Muse, and her partner, Officer John Bocchino, as plaintiffs who say they were targeted for retaliation by Cook and other top brass for sticking up for Brooks.
The lawsuit says Brooks, who joined the force in 2006, went from investigating domestic violence and sexual assaults to being a victim herself.
The lawsuit faults the city for promoting Cook, even though he had an “infamous history that included egregious sexual misconduct toward another female employee.”
New Jersey 101.5 reported in December that the city had approved a $200,000 settlement to end a lawsuit filed by a former police matron who claimed that then-Lt. Cook came to her house in 2007, unholstered his service weapon, whipped out his penis and masturbated to completion, ejaculating on his gun and her love seat.
Cook claimed to officials that the incident had been consensual, the woman’s lawsuit said.
The settlement was reached in 2014 and not reported publicly until last year. Details of the new lawsuit against the city and Cook are now also being reported for the first time by New Jersey 101.5.
A year after the settlement, Cook was promoted to be head of the Internal Affairs division, which is tasked with investigating wrongdoing by officers. Cook, who earns a $128,000 base salary, is the second uniformed officer in command after Chief Phyllis Bindi.
Brooks’ lawsuit said she “immediately” reported the elevator attack to her partner and a supervisor, who then both went with her to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.
Before filing the lawsuit, Brooks says she received a letter from the city’s corporation counsel who said “it was determined that there was insufficient evidence to make a finding that said sexual harassment occurred.”
The lawsuit describes the city’s response as a “betrayal” and that they “failed to immediately and fully investigate the assault and inexplicably allowed a sexual predator […] to return to work in the same office.”
The lawsuit says Cook tried to pressure Muse, who has been on the force for 33 years, to get his niece to drop her complaint and that her partner was warned to “stay away from Kia” and that he “can’t be her bodyguard.”
Since the lawsuit was filed last year, all three have been reprimanded and received negative evaluations for the first time in their careers, including for dress code violations and other “bogus” departmental charges. Bocchino says he has been demoted from the detective bureau to the patrol division. Brooks says her caseload has been tripled.
Cook’s attorney, John R. Gonzo, of the East Hanover firm L'Abbate, Balkan, Colavita & Contini, declined to comment for this article.
The city’s attorney, Diane Shelley, of the firm Jackson Lewis, did not return requests for comment. A city spokeswoman declined to comment.
McOmber says this is the first time he has represented a client in an employment lawsuit against a police department.
“They are truly shameless when it comes to retaliating,” he said. “Kia never accused anyone of anything before. This is a decorated officer; this is not some fragile person who just overreacted. If Detective Brooks says she was groped, she was. I believe her 100 percent. She has nothing to gain by this.”
The lawsuit is seeking an unspecified amount of damages for violations of the state Law Against Discrimination’s provisions against sexual harassment, hostile workplace and retaliation.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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