I-Team: Before County Took Over, a Police Internal Affairs Unit Plagued by Infighting

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In Irvington, New Jersey, word spread quickly last month about a mysterious investigation unfolding inside the police department.

Personnel from the state Attorney General’s office and the Essex County Prosecutor were seen gathering evidence inside the Irvington Police Internal Affairs Bureau. In the weeks since, state and county law enforcement agents have offered no explanation for their probe into Irvington’s police activities, except for a short press release from Theodore Stephens, the Acting Essex County Prosecutor.

In the statement, Stephens announced his office "has taken over the day-to-day operations of the Internal Affairs unit of the Irvington Police Department."

It’s not clear what necessitated the takeover. But the I-Team has learned that, long before the county stepped in, Irvington cops had been complaining of a toxic and retaliatory work environment within the police department.

In recent years, at least five Irvington police officers filed complaints alleging they were targets of bogus departmental charges, threats, or retaliatory actions ordered by police brass.

Tanisha Little is one of the Irvington cops who claims she was targeted with administrative discipline — not because of her interactions with the public, but because the Township’s top cop doesn’t like her. In 2020, Little filed a lawsuit against Police Director Tracy Bowers, accusing him of punishing her with unfavorable shifts because she previously turned down his romantic advances.

“Once it rose to a level where she reported it in writing, that’s when the retaliation hit,” said Kara MacKenzie, one of Little’s attorneys. “Right now we’re at close to 50 separate disciplinary charges against her, all of which seek her termination.”

Sgt. Jamal Calloway, who leads the union representing Irvington police supervisors, also filed a lawsuit alleging he was the target of retaliatory disciplinary. Calloway declined to speak about his lawsuit specifically, but accused Director Bowers of presiding over an Internal Affairs unit bent on settling scores between officers – rather than protecting the department’s integrity.

“It’s just been a constant barrage of retaliation and spitefulness and going against the law and going against Attorney General guidelines that govern how internal affairs and how police departments are supposed to be run in the state of New Jersey,” Calloway said.

Bowers did not answer questions from the I-Team, but in court filings he has denied the allegations from Officer Little and Sgt. Calloway.

According to data published by Irvington, the police force has seen a dramatic spike in the number of Internal Affairs complaints made by cops against cops. In 2018, there were just 5 complaints generated by police personnel. By 2021, internal affairs complaints originating with police staff to 118. In that same time period misconduct complaints from Irvington citizens decreased from 64 to 24.

The lawsuits filed by Little and Calloway list Police Director Bowers as a defendant along with Maurice Gattison, a retired Irvington cop and rapper, who may be best known for a scandal involving one of his music videos that featured an anti-gay slur. Pension records show Gattison retired from the Irvington force in 2020, but he was re-hired to a position called “Special Law Enforcement Officer III (SLEO III).” Though SLEO III officers were intended under state law to provide security in schools, Bowers testified in a public hearing that Gattison functioned as his assistant.

Despite his classification as a school safety officer, Calloway says Gattison’s primary function was to punish police officers not favored by Bowers.

“He was subsequently the right hand of the Director,” Calloway said. “He would watch cameras, facilitate and write officers up or get them written up for frivolous nonsensical things.”

When visited at his home, Gattison declined comment except to point out that he had no official authority over the Irvington Internal Affairs unit.

“I don’t control Internal Affairs. I’m a civilian,” he said.

Anthony Iacullo, Gattison’s attorney, said his client has cooperated fully with authorities concerning his employment with the Township of Irvington.

“He has done nothing improper nor illegal during his tenure with the Irvington Police Department,” Iacullo said.

But Jack Arseneault, one of the attorneys representing Tanisha Little, said it could be a crime to use a police department’s official disciplinary process to retaliate against officers who make good faith complaints about workplace harassment or unethical conduct.

“The Internal Affairs Unit was weaponized,” Arseneault said. “I believe there should be charges brought for this abuse of authority that did harm to not only Tanisha but to the entire department.”

On June 22, 2022 — the same day state and county investigators executed search warrants on the Irvington Internal Affairs headquarters — a police memo circulated announcing Gattison and two other officers classified as SLEO III would resign. The following week, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office issued a memo ordering that “Public Safety Director Tracy Bowers is NOT permitted to receive, review, nor have access to any reports/documents or be personally involved in any aspect of departmental disciplinary process.”

Mayor Tony Vauss (D–Irvington) did not respond to an I-Team inquiry asking whether he had continued confidence in Director Bowers.

“Please be advised that the Irvington Township Department of Public Safety / Police Division is and will continue to cooperate with the Office of the Attorney General and the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office,” said Musa Malik, the Township Business Administrator.

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