Whistleblower suit: Police chief ordered ticket quotas to raise revenue

The lawsuit claims new quotas place "substantial financial burden" on anyone with a vehicle ticket


Anthony G. Attrino
NJ.com

LAWRENCE TWP, NJ — Six police officers in Mercer County have filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Lawrence Township and its police chief claiming they were ordered to write more tickets and impound as many cars as possible to meet an illegal quota.

The suit, filed Monday in Mercer County Superior Court, claims Lawrence police administrators ordered officers to write tickets and impound cars “every time they are eligible and without discretion.” The reason was that revenue was down, according to the suit.

Lt. Joseph Amodio, Sgt. Scott Stein, Detective Andrew Lee and officers Marc Caponi, Andres Mejia and Hector Nieves, all members of PBA Local 119, are suing the township and Police Chief Lawrence Caloiaro individually and in his official capacity. The suit accuses the chief and his brothers, Lt. Joseph Caloiaro and Sgt. Scott Caloiaro, of ordering officers to stop being lenient when it came to citations.

“The advisement campaign is over. No more catch and release, revenue needs to go up,” Lt. Caloiaro allegedly said in March, according to the suit.

“Lawrence Township developed a systematic way to use motor vehicle enforcement to generate revenue,” the suit states. “The system is intricate and places a substantial financial burden on anybody (who) commits a motor vehicle offense in Lawrence Township.”

According to the suit, cars are impounded “regardless of the criminal or motor vehicle offense” and taken to a municipal lot.

There, motorists are required to pay $300 to get their vehicle back. The money is never refunded, even if the person is found not guilty of the charges, the suit claims.

The suit states the police department takes only cash or money orders. Motorists who don’t have enough cash often use an ATM machine in the lobby of the building. But since the machine only dispenses $200 at a time, they have to make two withdrawals and are charged two fees for using the ATM. The ATM fees go to the township, the suit claims.

“Therefore, upon the issuance of a ticket, regardless of the guilt of a motorist, he/she is already required to pay the township close to $475 between impound fees and towing costs just to get his/her car back,” the suit states. “This is prior to a motorist being found guilty of an offense.”

In January, a committee convened by the state Supreme Court acknowledged a growing public perception that municipal courts “operate with a goal to fill the town’s coffers,” and called it “contrary to the purpose of the courts.”

The committee, which recommended sweeping changes across the state, wrote it was "deeply concerned about what can be a never-ending imposition of mandatory financial obligations upon defendants that extend beyond the fine that is associated with the violation."

Despite the report, “Lawrence Township continued its practice of using the municipal court system as a ‘revenue generator,’” the suit states.

The officers claim that when they filed complaints against their superiors – including allegations of issuance of an unlawful order and neglect of duty – they were retaliated against.

The suit also states the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office was told about the alleged illegal quota scheme but has not taken action. The suit claims an assistant prosecutor was recorded on body-camera video stating one of the complaining officers, Lt. Joseph Amodio, would need “a lot of beef and beers” as fundraisers.

“This was implying that the prosecutor’s office or the defendant were going to terminate (Amodio),” the suit states.

The suit claims other officers have had preferential assignments taken away in 2020. Sgt. Scott Stein claims he was “targeted for discipline and internal affairs investigations” after complaining about the quota system.

The suit also accuses Lt. Joseph Caloiaro of abuse of power for allegedly engaging in a high-speed pursuit and arrest of a driver who gave him the middle finger. After his arrest, the driver’s car was impounded, the suit states.

The police officers who complained about the quota say they were placed on a “hit list” and subjected to “frivolous allegations and internal affairs complaints” from administrators and the township.

The suit alleges civil rights violations, a hostile work environment, and asks the court to order the town to stop using summonses as an improper municipal revenue generator.

Chief Caloiaro and township officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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