Harrington Park, N.J. police officer files lawsuit against city

A Harrington Park police sergeant says he was wrongly suspended amid a third lawsuit against the city and department over the years.

Sergeant Antimo Costagliola filed the lawsuit in Superior Court on July 2 and said most of the issues stem from issues with Lt. Ryan Kiely and a settlement from a previous lawsuit.

This is Costagliola’s third lawsuit against the commune and police. In 2018, he filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging workplace discrimination related to his Italian heritage, and another in 2022 in which he claimed he was denied a promotion because of a previous lawsuit.

The latest lawsuit claims Kiely holds a grudge against Costagliola because he won a settlement in a 2022 lawsuit when Kiely was promoted to sergeant despite being an “inferior candidate.”

Harrington Park Borough Administrator Kunjesh Trivedi said the borough had no comment, and Police Chief Robert Murphy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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The lawsuit claims Kiely is unable to do his job, listing a number of complaints, including a lack of self-control, anger management issues and failure to follow Harrington Park Police Department policies. The lawsuit also accuses Murphy of lacking “the courage, foresight and ability to control … Kiely” and allowing Kiely to make decisions about what was best for the police department.

Costagliola claimed in the lawsuit that the reason the police department and borough have never wanted to promote or protect him is because he “follows the letter of the law 100% and does not tolerate unlawful acts committed by fellow officers.” The lawsuit states that none of Costagliola’s past protected actions are being sought as part of the damages in the current lawsuit.

The lawsuit says Costagliola has been the subject of two Internal Affairs cases since his “protected whistleblowing activity,” and the Conscientious Employee Protection Act claims stem from activity that occurred between Jan. 5 and Jan. 11. The lawsuit alleges Costagliola has been a victim of a hostile work environment since 2023, and the hostile work environment claims stem from disabilities and impairments he has suffered as a result of on-the-job injuries and illnesses, particularly related to the new shaving restrictions. Costagliola said he has a dermatological condition for which he has had accommodations for years and is unable to shave daily.

The lawsuit says the first incident occurred when officers were called to someone’s home on a report of a disturbed person, and the person was well-known to police. The lawsuit says the person did not pose a physical threat to officers at the scene or to his parents or himself, and at one point, after the situation had calmed down, the officer sat with the person on a couch to calm him down.

The lawsuit claims that another officer, who is a favorite of Kiely’s, “unusually and unlawfully” drew his Taser and “swinged and aimed it” at the emotionally disturbed individual for four minutes in a “threatening manner.” Another officer reported Costagliola’s actions, according to the lawsuit, and body camera footage led him to believe the officer had violated use-of-force guidelines and made a false police report.

Costagliola said he reported the incident to Kiely, who was supposed to open an Internal Affairs file, but he refused to do so. The lawsuit says Kiely became “verbally aggressive” toward Costagliola and failed to investigate the other officer for violating department use-of-force rules.

According to the lawsuit, Costagliola expressed concern to Murphy that the chief, Kiely and Sergeant Eric Flyge would not conduct an objective investigation.

The second whistleblower incident involves a continuing mold problem at the station. The lawsuit says Costagliola filed a complaint with OSHA in March about “unsafe” amounts of mold, spores and fungi at the police station to “protect the health, safety and welfare” of the public, police and civilians. He said he told Murphy about the OSHA report and it angered all of the defendants, except Flyge, because the borough was forced to spend money on remediation.

The lawsuit alleges that Murphy and Kiely hindered him in his role as a supervisor by taking away his ability to review body-worn camera footage, ordered him to conduct two 30-minute on-site traffic stops during each shift, from which Costagliola was exempt until he began his CEPA assignment, and retaliated against him by fabricating an IA complaint alleging that Costagliola conducted an unauthorized investigation of another officer.

Costagliola said Murphy and Kiely used Flyge as an IA investigator to retaliate against him for doing his job and suspended him for several days without pay. The lawsuit accused the defendants of suspending him to confuse his retirement date and deprive him of full retirement rights after 25 years of service, which was a side agreement from a previous lawsuit.

Costagliola accused Kiely of arranging and filing a discrimination complaint by an officer involved in the use of force incident, alleging Kiely discriminated against her because she was a woman.

The lawsuit said Costagliola suffered “physical, mental and emotional injuries and damages” because of the defendants, in addition to “prolonged and pervasive waves of great pain, embarrassment, mental and emotional suffering, and mental and nervous anguish” and other emotions, including “fear, indignity, and extreme humiliation and ruin.”