Paterson, NJ — A sergeant in the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department filed suit Tuesday against the Acting Sheriff Charles Meyer alleging that he interfered with an internal investigation to determine if Meyer had committed voter fraud by attempting to falsify his address in order to register and vote for Democratic Sheriff candidate Richard Berdnick in the upcoming November 2 election.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Federal Court by Sgt. Daryl Walton, alleges that Meyer, a Morris County resident and a Berdnik supporter, attempted to register to vote in Passaic County in this year’s sheriff’s election in violation of the state’s election laws. Only Passaic County residents may vote in Passaic County elections.
Walton, a member of the Special Investigation Division to the Internal Affairs Unit of the sheriff’s department, alleges that on September 22, 2010, while an investigation into Meyer’s alleged voter fraud was ongoing, Meyer transferred Walton out of the Internal Affairs Unit and into the Criminal Investigations Unit. Meyer, according to the complaint, also transferred the commanding officer of the Internal Affairs Unit, Capt. Fred Ernst out of the unit. The complaint maintains that Walton was transferred to a unit and a position that does not exist since it was abolished by former Sheriff Gerard Speziale in 2008. Walton was not issued an office or a vehicle to allow him to perform his duties. He was working from the jail cafeteria.
Walton’s attorney Ethan Jesse Sheffet of the South Plainfield firm of Sheffet & Dvorin, asserts that Sgt. Walton suffered humiliation and a loss in salary at the hand of Meyers.
“My client was doing his job and because of political considerations found himself banished to Siberia,” said Sheffet. “Acting Sheriff Meyer punished him for simply doing his job. Daryl Walton had a good career with the department and now it is ruined.”
Sheffet said Walton had several other internal investigation cases he was working at the time of the dismissal. The disposition of those cases is not known. The attorney said the investigation in Meyer’s alleged voter fraud was triggered by a citizen’s complaint.
Walton is suing Meyers and the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department for civil rights violations under the U.S. Constitution and for violations under the provisions of New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act, otherwise known as the “whistle-blower” law.
The compliant says that Meyer’s actions and those of several unnamed defendants were in retaliation for Walton’s failure to support Berdnick due the fact that Walton’s father-in-law is a known supporter of Felix Garcia, the candidate running against Berdnik for Sheriff.
The complaint alleges Meyers repeatedly and flagrantly violated his own August 19, 2010 order against politicking on department property and using Department resources by inviting Berdnik throughout the internal workings of the jail and personally giving him a tour of the entire facility. The complaint further alleges that Meyers, in violation of his own order, allowed candidate Berdnik to meet and greet with several Passaic County Sheriffs Department employees for the sole purpose of garnering their political support in the upcoming election. Meyers allowed Berdnik to make a political campaign pitch with members of the Sheriff’s Department Search Unit at the department’s official offices in Wayne. The complaint also notes that Meyers has attended several Berdnik fundraisers in full uniform, again in violation of Meyers’ August 2010 order.
Meyer’s also violated county ethics rules by allowing Berdnik to campaign on county property.
The complaint notes that Meyer’s action harkens back to Berdnik’s own history of having retaliated against a subordinate officer in the Clifton Police Department. As a Clifton lieutenant, it was alleged that Berdnik participated with other superior officers in a pattern of abusive actions in the workplace, against a subordinate officer. That officer brought allegations of wrongdoing in the department to the attention of his supervising officer, Berdnik. Clifton police officer, Joseph Napoleone filed his own lawsuit asserting strikingly similar allegations of violations of his federal civil rights and rights afforded to whistle blowers. In 2008 he was awarded nearly $1 million by a Passaic County jury.