Suspended S.R. captain
returns to department
Three employees have filed suit in state Superior Court
n Monday, a South River police captain suspended for nearly a year was expected to shine up his badge and return to the force.
Capt. Wesley Bomba, a borough resident and a 32-year veteran of the force, has been suspended with pay since March 8, 1999, after sexual harassment charges were filed against him by a fellow officer, Lt. Michael Trojanowski of the traffic safety bureau, on behalf of three female employees.
Since that time, Bomba has been cleared of four out of the five charges after a report by a hearing officer from the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Department, hired by the borough to investigate the incident. The officer was cleared of charges that he used derogatory language, used rude or insulting language in public, repeatedly violated department rules and regulations, and violated the department’s sexual harassment policy.
Bomba was found guilty of a failure to conduct himself in accordance with high ethical standards, and will receive a written reprimand pertaining to this charge, borough officials said. According to borough officials, he was ordered back for Monday; he will have to qualify for his weapon and perhaps receive additional training.
Noting that Bomba was eager to get back to the force, attorney Lawrence Bitterman of New Brunswick maintained that the incident that led to the reprimand was a misconstrued joke about divorce in front of a female borough employee. Bomba did not "moon" the employee, as was alleged, his attorney said, adding that the charges were baseless.
"The charges were completely false. The three main complainants lied. Their stories conflicted and they were not filed in a timely fashion," he said of the overall case.
However, the issue hasn’t come to an end for the three employees, who have since filed suit in state Superior Court. The plaintiffs include Sayreville resident Janet Nielsen, who was hired as a dispatcher in 1989 and served as a special police officer since 1996, and Paula Bollentin, who has served as a special since 1981 and as a dispatcher since 1983, and Debra Shaluha, who worked as a secretary for the chief of police from 1985 to 1989. Shaluha, a borough resident, has worked in the borough clerk’s office since 1994.
In the suit, filed by Somerville attorney Brian Cige, the women claim that they have suffered years of continuous sexual harassment and a hostile work environment. They particularly cite the actions of Bomba, who allegedly touched himself in their presence, told inappropriate jokes with sexual content, inquired into the plaintiffs’ sexual lives and disclosed his own.
According to the suit, the plaintiffs experienced emotional suffering, requiring over the counter and prescription medicines for anxiety and depression. They have also allegedly suffered financially because they avoided overtime or particular assignments that would put them into contact with the captain.
The plaintiffs have also named the South River Police Department and the borough in the suit, alleging that officials were aware of the situation and did little to resolve it. They alleged that Bomba’s suspension with his annual salary of $57,918 amounted to a "paid vacation" appearing to "reward" him for his conduct. Furthermore, the plaintiffs allege that the paid suspension put Bomba into contact with and further distressed Shaluha, who works in the office where Bomba must go to receive his paycheck every two weeks.
"They were very concerned and disappointed," Cige said of his clients’ reaction to Bomba’s return, noting that the officer would be in a supervisory position to two of the three plaintiffs.
"They were asked by the borough to participate as witnesses against Capt. Bomba, which they did. They believed that serious disciplinary action was going to be taken," he maintained. "They were hoping that the chief would take more serious action than the hearing officer recommended."
As the only captain on the 28-member force, Bomba is next in line for the chief’s position. Current Police Chief Francis X. Eib announced his retirement last year and plans to take his leave in early April, to retire fully in October. Last month, the Borough Council rescinded an ordinance establishing the position of a police director, which met with opposition from residents and police officers alike.
Borough officials are uncertain as to who would ultimately lead the department. According to Mayor Robert Szegeti, Bomba would be able to fill in for the chief in his absence as the next ranking officer. A possible promotion to chief and any other solution would rely on recommendations from the borough’s Public Safety Committee and the council, he said.
"We don’t know for sure what’s going to happen," said Councilman Salvatore Marsicano, who chairs the Public Safety Committee.
At a council meeting last month, Marsicano asked the borough attorney to look into changing the ordinance governing the chief’s succession. Currently, only a captain can be promoted to chief; Marsicano’s recommendation would allow officials to consider lieutenants for promotion. The lieutenants, and Trojanowski in particular, have led the department during Bomba’s suspension when the chief was away.
Marsicano noted that the rules, regulations and ordinances dealing with the line of succession are "vague."
"They need to be addressed," he said.