• Lynda Cohen

Atlantic City officer shot on duty, nine others sue for unpaid sick time

Updated: May 19

An Atlantic City officer shot in the head while trying to stop the armed robbery of three teens now says the city won’t pay him more than $65,000 in unused sick time. Josh Vadell is one of 10 retired officers suing the city for more than 16,000 hours of sick time they say was never used and never paid them. That totals $900,928.99, according to the suit. READ THE FULL SUIT The sick pay was long an unresolved issue with the city. But on Oct. 18, the Department of Community Affairs issued a memorandum to Mayor Frank Gilliam enforcing a $15,000 cap for those who retired Nov. 9, 2016 or after. To get that money, the officers would have to sign a release that would agree to that payout. Instead, 10 of the officers filed suit, explained attorney Christopher Gray. Vadell’s injury from the Sept. 2, 2016, shooting forced him to retire May 1, 2017, with 1,320 hours of accrued sick time. The nine other officers include another who was injured in the line of duty, some that retired after more than two decades, a sergeant who helped develop the city’s Violent Crimes Unit and the sergeant who developed the Early Warning System credited with a significant decrease in Internal Affairs complaints. While Gray represents the 10 officers, he said there are others — including firefighters and other city workers — who fall into this category. “Defendants reaped the benefits of Plaintiffs coming into work every day and not requiring the payment of sick time and overtime to cover Plaintiffs if they called out,” the suit states. “Plaintiffs satisfied their end of this negotiated contract throughout the entirety of their careers.” The suit makes several claims including breach of contract and unjust enrichment. But the DCA, the state agency that issued the order, says it’s the city’s limited funds that made the decision necessary. “Immoderate terminal leave obligations hinder the xity’s budgetary flexibility and cash flow, forcing the city to sacrifice current hiring and employee compensation to support outsized legacy costs generated through unsustainable leave time policies and practices,” DCA spokeswoman Lisa Ryan told BreakingAC. “These obligations also compromise the city’s long-term fiscal health.” The decision was made after a “comprehensive analysis,” she said. The Nov. 9, 2016 date is when the Municipal Stabilization and Recovery Act took effect in Atlantic City. “No where else in state can a contract just be voided from one side,” attorney Gray said. “These officers worked under contracts for the entirety of their careers promising them a certain benefit when they retired.” This is not the first time Vadell had to worry about money coming from the city. In 2017, then-state overseer Jeffrey Chiesa tried to change the police contract to decrease Workers Compensation by 30 percent. But the state quickly responded to outcry over Vadell by saying he would get those benefits in full, which Gray affirm happened. As for the state’s view now, Ryan said “We recognize and value the years of service these police officers gave to Atlantic City, in some cases risking their lives to protect people from harm. “Because the city’s financial recovery has progressed sufficiently to support certain previously suspended terminal leave payments, the city has initiated these payments to retired police officers,” she added. “With that said, the city’s financial stability requires sustainable budgetary practices and the implementation of sound fiscal strategies.” The case has been assigned to Assignment Judge Julio Mendez. Also named in the suit are:

  • Sgt. Edward Riegel, a 25-year veteran who received more than 14 commendations and was twice named detective of the year. Owed: 2,070 hours, totaling $129,085.20.

  • Officer Andy Pronovost, the department’s longtime crash reconstructionist and fatal crash investigator Owed: 1,658 hours, totaling $95,008.22

  • Sgt. Jerry String, a 21-year veteran whose work included being a member of the SWAT team and a crisis negotiator. Owed: 1,380 hours, totaling $90,086.40

  • Sgt. Eugene Maier, who was shot at, stabbed and had numerous broken bones in his career. He was twice named officer of the year twice and was K-9 of the year three times. Owed: 2,024 hours, totaling $129,778.88

  • Sgt. David Madamba, a 25-year veteran who developed the Early Warning System credited with lowering the number of Internal Affairs complaints against officers. Owed: 1,658 hours, totaling $108,234.24

  • Detective Lonell Jones, a 25-year veteran who was a gangs expert and a negotiator. Owed: 2,080 hours, totaling $112,804.88

  • Sgt. Joseph Iacovone, who helped develop the city’s Violent Crimes Unit, and also was a gang expert and arson investigator Owed: 1,036 hours, totaling $65,433.76

  • Officer Connie Hackney, who was forced to retire following an injury in the line of duty. He received an award in 2007, for saving a woman from a burning building. Owed: 1,094 hours, totaling $58,791.56

  • Officer Michael Gavin, a 36-year veteran who worked in community policing, special operations, vince and on the FBI fugitive task force. Owed: 877½ hours, totaling $46,235.48

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