Officer Wins Lawsuit and $600K, Loses Claim For Reinstatement

Darren Nance was terminated as a Newark, New Jersey police officer on September 3, 1996 and has not served as a police officer in the past 14 years. On June 24, 2010, a jury found that Nance’s termination was in retaliation for invoking his right to petition the government under the First Amendment and that Nance was subject to retaliation in violation of New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination. Subsequently, Nance was awarded $350,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages.

Nance then petitioned the Court for an order seeking reinstatement to his former job. In denying the request, the Court cited Nance’s “extensive disciplinary history while serving as a Newark officer.”

Among other things, the Court referred to an administrative law judge’s finding that Nance “failed to appreciate and recognize that he is, as a police officer, the moral fiber of the community and that he, at all times, is held to a higher standard of conduct than the average citizen” and that Nance “carries a weapon and completely lost his self control on two separate occasions.” The Court noted that Nance was referred for psychological testing in 1995, following an incident where he “was accused of being ‘extremely hostile’ towards a police surgeon.” The examining psychologist found that Nance “has a great deal of disdain for stringent adherence to orders” and that “he seems to have no insight into the fact that his anger, resentment and apparent defiance of authority may have contributed to the difficulties which he has had.”

The Court concluded that “it is undisputed that Nance has been deemed psychologically unfit to perform the duties of a Newark police officer. Society reposes in police officers responsibilities that are simultaneously weighty, sensitive, and fraught with dangerous consequences to themselves, other police officers, and the public. There is clearly a strong public interest in a municipality’s police force being comprised of persons psychologically fit to perform. Given the legitimate concern that the safety of the public would be jeopardized if Nance were to be reinstated, Nance’s request for reinstatement must be denied.”

If that were not enough, the Court also found “the long passage of time since Nance last served as a Newark police officer makes reinstatement impracticable. Even if he were psychologically fit to perform, there have been major changes in the operations of the Newark Police Department over the last 14 years.”

And if that were not enough, the Court also concluded that “the continued and irreparable animosity between Nance and the Department makes reinstatement here infeasible. A Court may deny reinstatement when there exists irreparable animosity between the parties. This case brings with it a long history of hostile and confrontational behavior. This tenuous relationship has been memorialized by Nance’s behavior at City Council meetings, City Hall protests, and broadcasts across the Internet. It is evident from testimony that this animosity continues. To reinstate Nance would mean to re-add a key ingredient to a formula for disaster.”

Nance v. City of Newark, 2010 WL 4193057 (D. N.J. 2010).

This article appears in the February 2011 issue