Jury Awards Retired Borough Police Officer $525,000 in Damages

A jury has awarded a retired borough police officer $525,000 in compensation and punitive damages related to claims that former police chief Anthony Federico retaliated against him with disciplinary charges for filing a racial discrimination complaint.

Gary Mitchell, an African-American officer who retired from the police force in 2007 in exchange for various disciplinary charges being dropped against him, has been awarded  $450,000 in compensatory damages and another $75,000 in punitive damages by a Superior Court jury.

The settlement is the second settlement the borough has been required to pay out to an officer this year as a result of disciplinary charges that were made against officers during the Federico era. In January, a judge ruled that the borough had to reinstate Sergeant Kenneth Riley, give him back pay, and reimburse him for legal fees. That case cost the borough an estimated total of $460,000.

The borough, former chief Federico, now deceased, the borough’s internal affairs officer at the time, and “John Does 1-5” were named as defendants in the suit.

Mitchell, who joined the force in 1987, contended that he complained to the Princeton Human Services Commission back in April of 2006 that he was being discriminated against based on his race. He claimed later that same month he was charged with various disciplinary charges by former chief Anthony Federico in retaliation for filing the racial discrimination complaint.

Borough lawyer Michael J. Herbert counters that Mitchell was first notified that an internal affairs investigation was being conducted on March 15 of 2006, and that Mitchell filed his complaint only after learning of the internal investigation.

“We obviously disagree and have a different viewpoint than the jury,” said Herbert regarding the jury award. He declined to comment further about the decision because the case could be appealed.

“The borough never would have dropped the disciplinary charges against Mitchell if officials thought the settlement did not resolve all the issues between the officer and the borough,” Herbert said. “As part of the settlement, he was allowed to be kept on the payroll for eight months, collecting a salary and benefits, until he retired.”

Herbert said he believes the borough has very strong grounds for an appeal, but the decision to the appeal is in the hands of borough officials.

Mitchell’s lawyer, prominent defense lawyer George Daggett of Sparta, could not be reached for comment on the case.

Borough Administrator Robert Bruschi said the borough council will make a decision about appealing after reviewing the matter.

In 2007, Mitchell  took the borough to court to force officials to send in the paperwork so he could retire. Mitchell and the borough had agreed to a settlement that allowed Mitchell to retire from the police department in exchange for withdrawing all charges against him. Borough officials agreed to place him on paid sick leave pending his retirement. As part of the settlement, the borough required Mitchell to sign a release agreeing not to sue the borough. The borough was waiting for Mitchell to sign a release. Mitchell balked at that requirement and accused the borough of a breach of contract and breach of good faith.