TRENTON – The capital’s chief of police says he was harassed by a vocal councilwoman who even questioned his blackness.
In the lawsuit filed against Councilwoman Robin Vaughn and the city of Trenton, Police Commissioner Steve Wilson alleged that his rights under the New Jersey antidiscrimination law had been violated.
From the first meeting, they were hostile towards Vaughn Wilson, who was appointed chief of police in the summer of 2021, according to the lawsuit. He was confirmed in the fall.
The lawsuit states that when Vaughn first met Wilson, he said, “I hope you’re ready, because we’re after you.”
During a city council meeting, Vaughn made a similar statement, saying she would arrange for Wilson to be fired. At another meeting, she questioned Wilson’s race and was upset that he was replacing a black woman, Sheilah Coley.
“The police chief isn’t even black and he didn’t do anything,” Vaughn said, according to the lawsuit.
Wilson replied that he was black. Vaughn replied, “No, you’re not.”
Wilson also identifies as Asian American.
Didn’t share her cell phone number
Vaughn was also upset that Wilson was part of a group text with Council members.
“State that directly [or] immediately out of this group!! This is a group for duly elected officials. Since when are directors allowed to post in this group? I have not given Acting Director Steve Wilson my personal cell phone number. He had better never write to me again. Actions of an idiot,” Vaughn wrote.
Vaughn cited false crime statistics to argue against Wilson that he wasn’t doing his job, according to the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, Vaughn’s actions caused Wilson “emotional distress, anger, embarrassment and humiliation.”
Wilson accused the city of continuing to “employ” Vaughn despite previous racist and homophonic comments. As a councilwoman, however, Vaughn is not a city employee, but instead is elected by voters.
Vaughn and the Mayor have a political conflict
Vaughn was elected to the City Council in 2018 to represent the West Ward. She ran for mayor in November and was defeated in third place by just 689 votes. Incumbent Reed Gusciora was re-elected by nearly 5,800 votes.
Vaughn clashed with Mayor Reed Gusciora, who is white and gay. She led the city council’s effort to pass a “vote of no confidence” in Gusciora in 2021. In 2020, she labeled Gusciora a pedophile during a profanity-filled Zoom call, prompting a call from Gov. Phil Murphy for her to resign. The mayor has also accused them of blocking a vote on a city budget and forcing him to get money from the state to keep the city running.
In the lawsuit, Wilson is seeking a trial by jury and compensatory damages, punitive damages, interest, legal costs, attorneys’ fees, increased attorneys’ fees, reasonable back payment, reasonable upfront payment and reasonable reinstatement.
Dan Alexander is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at [email protected]
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