VINELAND – City Council will spend up to $50,000 to defend itself in the lawsuit filed by a disgraced former city police officer who is suing to be reinstated to the police department.
In special meeting Thursday morning, council voted 4-0 to hire the Bergen County law firm of DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick & Cole to provide legal services for one year in defense of the lawsuit filed last month by Gamaliel “Gami” Cruz.
The hiring, effective July 22, was the only matter on council’s agenda, and went without any comment from council members. Councilman John Procoppio was absent from the meeting.
City Solicitor Richard Tonetta said an outside firm was needed to represent council because the city’s legal staff — which represents both council and the Mayor’s Office — are unable to handle the case, as both sides are at odds on the issue of Cruz’s potential rehiring.
Cruz, a former narcotics officer with the city police department, was fired in May 2012 because he lied to a judge while obtaining a search warrant, and prosecutors have said his reputation makes him a worthless witness in criminal trials.
The department had filed administrative charges against Cruz in 2011 after the Prosecutor’s Office disputed his credibility. The Prosecutor’s Office was forced to dismiss 39 cases in which Cruz was involved.
However, Bermurdez has since voiced support for Cruz, who he said is a longtime friend, and ordered the dismissal of Cruz’s administrative charges in May.
Cruz’s termination order remained in effect, and the former officer last month sued the city to be reinstated.
Soon thereafter Bermudez stated Cruz would return to the department on July 15, where he would be paid a $92,000 salary for a desk job.
But City Council voted unanimously on June 10 to reject his rehiring, classifying the mayor’s order as a “settlement” of a legal matter and then shooting it down.
Tonetta said Tuesday there were no documents on file with the city’s Department of Personnel, including paperwork required by the state Civil Service Commission, that are needed for Cruz to return to work.
When asked if they still supported rejecting Bermudez’s dismissal of the administrative charges against Cruz, City Council President Anthony said he, “stands by that decision.”
Council Vice President simply said “No” when asked if Cruz should be rehired.
Bermudez did not return a call seeking comment.
Cruz is represented in the suit by attorney Stuart Alterman.