A Union County cop is accusing his department of operating an "old boys club" that protects white officers loyal to the county police chief, according to a 30-page lawsuit.

In the complaint filed last week, Sgt. Homero Almanzar, a Hispanic veteran who served in the U.S. Army and National Gaurd, claims he is not a part of the club and faces harsher punishments for lateness than white officers who have sex on duty or drive drunk.

The lawsuit filed by Almanzar's attorney Brian Schiller says that officers in the club must "pledge their loyalty," sometimes due to blackmail, to Chief James Christopher Debbie. It adds that if a county cop isn't in the club, Debbie "will not hesitate to come after one’s livelihood with full force."

J. Christopher Debbie is sworn in as Union County police chief on Feb. 3, 2017. (Union County)
J. Christopher Debbie is sworn in as Union County police chief on Feb. 3, 2017. (Union County)

Union County Counsel Bruce Bergen told New Jersey 101.5 that the county's policy is to not comment on pending litigation.

“Further, as the allegations concern personnel matters, the county is barred by confidentiality from responding," Bergen said. "We would note, that this complaint, as with any other, is only the plaintiff’s claims and does not constitute proof of any of the allegations.”

Union County's 'old boys club'

The lawsuit accuses Chief Debbie of protecting officers in the club who engaged in misconduct or illegal behavior.

"Debbie condones having sex on duty in police vehicles, engaging in prostitution, drunk driving, crashing/ damaging County vehicles, deleting information on County run databases, harboring missing juveniles, losing firearms and assault rifles while failing to report the loss of same, and perjury," the lawsuit states.

Retaliation for reporting misconduct

The complaint adds that after Almanzar reported another officer for violating departmental policies, the same officer opened an Internal Affairs investigation into Almanzar as retaliation.

According to the lawsuit, Almanzar reported Sgt. Andrew Klein in January 2020 and the resulting Internal Affairs investigation found Klein “did not follow appropriate department policies and procedures.”

Soon after, Klein was promoted and assigned to the Internal Affairs Unit. He still works in the unit, the Union County website shows.

A Union County police vehicle. (Union County)
A Union County police vehicle. (Union County)

Almanzar then suddenly found himself repeatedly disciplined for minor infractions while other cops were not disciplined for the same violations, the lawsuit says. Almanzar noticed Klein conducting "covert surveillance" on him and soon became the target of multiple Internal Affairs investigations conducted by Klein, according to the suit.

The investigations resulted in Almanzar being suspended three times in 2020. His name appeared in an Attorney General's Office discipline report and was publicized in media reports.

'History of discrimination'

Almanzar is not the only cop to have filed a lawsuit accusing the Union County police of discriminating against its own officers.

A lawsuit filed by former patrolman Kevin Joy in June 2020 claimed that he was repeatedly passed over for promotion despite being at the top of the sergeant's promotional list for three years. Joy, a Black man, also claimed that white cops were "treated far more leniently in Internal Affairs matters" than he was.

Joy's lawsuit stated that after he took legal action against the department, he was soon retaliated against and suspended. Joy was the victim of "horrendously abusive adverse employment actions" and was forced to retire, according to the complaint.

Almanzar's lawsuit names another Black former cop within the department. It says that in 2013, Blake Clay reported Debbie and other officers for racially profiling drivers.

Clay received a "picture of a drowning slave" in his workplace mailbox and was continually targeted with administrative offenses, according to the complaint.

In the lawsuit, Almanzar is seeking compensatory damages, including front and back pay and lost benefits, as well as attorney's fees.

Rick Rickman is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at richard.rickman@townsquaremedia.com

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