Hackensack officer alleges she was ordered to alter police report

(MONSY ALVARADO)   A Hackensack police officer is alleging she was ordered to change a police report about a robbery so it would not include the name of the son of Police Chief Charles “Ken” Zisa’s former girlfriend, according to a federal lawsuit filed this week.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Newark on behalf of Police Officers Laura Campos and Richard Melber, accuses Zisa of official misconduct. It alleges Zisa ordered Campos — through her supervisor, Capt. Danilo Garcia — to not include Kathleen Tiernan’s son in the report. Her son was a suspect in the 2004 robbery, according to the suit.

“Under threat of fear and retaliation, plaintiff was ordered by her superior officer, Captain Garcia, to change the report not to implicate Tiernan’s son,’’ the suit states. “Garcia further indicated to plaintiff that the order came from Zisa.”

Campos’ lawyer, Mark Frost, said the claims in the lawsuit show a pattern of official misconduct as it relates to Kathleen Tiernan.  Zisa, who has led the police department since 1995, was suspended with pay after surrendering to police last month on an insurance fraud charge stemming from a 2008 car accident involving Tiernan. Officers at the scene said they suspected Tiernan was drunk when the chief arrived and took her from the scene before a sobriety test could be given, authorities said. Zisa and Tiernan filed an insurance claim that contained false statements in support of the claim, according to authorities.

“He has been charged with insurance fraud and now Zisa’s office, in respect to her son, helped protect him from possible criminal indictment relating to this juvenile matter,’’ Frost said.

Zisa could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Garcia did not immediately return calls for comment. Joseph Zisa, the city attorney and the chief’s cousin, said he wanted to look at the complaint before making any comment. City Manager Stephen Lo Iacono said he had not seen the suit, and could not comment on the allegations.

“I can’t imagine that we would not defend the city against the allegations,’’ Lo Iacono said. “As long as we feel the allegations are untrue, we will vigorously defend against them.”

In the 19-page complaint, Campos also alleges she was sexually harassed by Garcia, who was her supervisor when she worked as a patrol officer. Campos alleges the harassment started a few months after she began working for the city in January 2002, and has continued through this year, the complaint states.

The complaint alleges that Garcia made inappropriate comments to Campos while he looked at pornographic magazines stashed in his desk, and that Campos did not complain for fear of losing her job. It also alleges that after Garcia got into an argument at a Hackensack bar with Campos’ then-fiancé, she was assigned to a walking post as punishment.

The sexual harassment and advances continued in September 2005, when Campos was assigned to dispatch, the complaint alleges.

“Garcia entered the radio room and put his hands on her left shoulder and started to rub them and implied in a sarcastic tone that Plaintiff had slashed tires on his truck,” the complaint reads. “After this conversation, Plaintiff was assigned to a walking post even though he knew that she did not slash his tires.”

The officer alleges that after Garcia berated her one day for asking him to approve overtime, she complained about the “sexual harassment, sexual advances, humiliation, and other abuse” to Chief Zisa, and the two deputy chiefs, and no action was taken.

The lawsuit names Garcia, Capt. Tomas Padilla and the City of Hackensack as defendants. Padilla, who was named the officer in charge after Zisa’s arrest, said he had not seen the lawsuit, and could not comment about the allegations. He said he was surprised that he was named in the lawsuit.

“This is all news to me,” he said. “I will be talking to counsel and let this proceed through the legal channels.”

Frost said he plans to send a copy of the lawsuit to Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli. The prosecutor began monitoring the police department after Zisa was charged, and assigned an investigator to be in daily contact with Padilla.

Molinelli was out of the office Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.

Campos is also alleging she was transferred to the Community Resource Center and her hours were changed, weeks after the 2008 local union delegate election because she did not show her vote, according to the suit. The lawsuit alleges that Chief Zisa supported Officer Tina Clouse for the post, and not Joseph Inglima, who won.

The officer also claims she was asked to switch parties from Republican to Democrat in 2005 so she could support Zisa and his candidacies and other individuals he supported in public elections, such as Padilla, a Bergen County freeholder, the complaint states. Zisa is a former Democratic state assemblyman.

Melber, who has been a police officer since 1987, is alleging that he was transferred to a walking post in a “high crime and high drug area” after he nominated and supported his former partner, Inglima in his run for PBA state delegate. The policeman also alleges that before the union election, he was asked by various city police officers to donate money to the campaigns of Zisa and Padilla.


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