By DON STINE
In an emotional and tearful speech, Neptune Police Sgt. Elena Gonzalez submitted her formal resignation to the Township Committee this week saying that harassment and discrimination in the police department continues to this day.
“I had hoped my many requests for the township to take action to end the rampant discrimination, harassment and retaliation in the Neptune police department would have been taken seriously…but the abuse only intensified with each of my requests for action, leaving me no option other than my resignation,” she said.
In 2012, Gonzalez and her fellow officer Christine Savage filed charges that they were subjected to sexual harassment in the police department and an investigation was launched in 2013. The township eventually reached a $330,000 settlement in 2014 over the lawsuit and both officers were given promotions after their case was settled.
However, at the April 24 committee meeting Gonzalez said that things in the police department have not improved.
“My complaints about discrimination, harassment and retaliation and my support of others opposing this unlawful conduct have resulted in unfair scrutiny of my actions and unfair disciplinary action taken against me in an effort to force me from the ranks,” she said.
Gonzalez said that the situation has deteriorated to the point that it is starting to affect her health. She said she regrets leaving her job.
“Unfortunately, because of my departure, Neptune residents are losing a strong advocate and a dedicated public servant,” she said.
Many fellow police officers and other supporters attended the meeting and yelled for Gonzalez, who was tearful and sometimes crying during her comments, be allowed to exceed the usual three-minute period for public comment after the three-minute timer sounded.
“I am done after this- let me speak. People have levied false charges against me,” she said to the governing body, garnering cheers and applause from audience members.
Gonzalez said that, in a contemporary irony, many of the police department’s superior officers would have been fired even from FOX News Channel “for their misogynistic ways and sexually and racially discriminatory and retaliatory conduct a long time ago.”
She said there was never was never any investigation into unlawful practices in the police department and no efforts to stop it.
“After pouring myself out empty in an effort to do my job to the best of my ability, the pressures brought upon me as a result of the harassment and retaliation began to consume my spirit, bruise my confidence and fracture my self-respect,” she said.
A small crown gathered on the first-floor of the municipal building to support Gonzalez after she left the meeting, with many of her supporters also emotional with some crying.
In a prepared statement issued on Tuesday, Mayor Michael Branley said that township officials are not allowed to discuss any specifics about Gonzalez’s case but he did say that there are disciplinary matters that have yet to be resolved.
In addition, Brantley said Gonzalez has a civil suit against the township which has not yet been adjudicated.
“Because Sgt. Gonzalez has not authorized the township to discuss her personnel matters in public, we are not permitted to comment on the existence or status of any internal affairs or pending disciplinary charges. As such, we cannot respond to her accusations, we cannot reveal the other side of the story, nor can we divulge the findings of our independent professionals who will be working to provide the township with representation in defense of her lawsuit,” he said in the statement.
“Regardless, the governing body will continue to maintain its commitment to a zero tolerance workplace environment to see that all employees are treated equally and that our officers are held accountable. The bottom line is that this governing body is doing exactly what the general public would expect us to do when faced with certain situations with our sworn police officers,” Brantley said.
Gonzalez was hired as a police dispatcher in February 2006 and became an officer that July. She has an associate’s degree in science, a bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice and master’s degree in public administration. She has been an adjunct professor at Rutgers University’s School Of Criminal Justice since 2016.