The retired Clark Police Lieutenant who recorded racist and sexist remarks by Clark’s mayor says prosecutors in New Jersey have dropped the ball.
“The handling of the investigation is lacking. They were in possession of evidence that showed racism and gender discrimination and they did nothing,” said Antonio Manata.
Manata claims the Union County Prosecutor's Office, now led by William Daniel, and the New Jersey State Attorney General’s Office, now led by Matthew Platkin, failed to hold leaders of Clark Township accountable for allegations of race and sex discrimination.
“The Union County Prosecutor’s Office has never approached me and asked me to testify or give any statements in reference to the content of the tapes until January that just passed two months ago. And the only reason why we discussed the contents of those tapes is because they were investigating me for making the tapes,” Manata told NBC New York in an exclusive interview.
Manata said investigators told him, by secretly recording Mayor Sal Bonaccorso’s racist comments, he violated a 2013 town policy about recording internal conversations.
As a result, Manata’s attorneys filed a federal lawsuit alleging the Union County Prosecutor’s Office has retaliated against him for being a whistleblower, and despite the fact that the recordings were turned over 20 months ago, the prosecutor’s office failed to expose the alleged racism that existed in Clark City Hall and the Clark Township Police Department.
The lawsuit also states four other former employees made similar allegations, and that many other recordings exist.
“My recordings are nothing compared to the recordings that were submitted prior to me,” Manata said, adding, “you will see there is a pattern."
Last week, some of the recordings, made in 2018 and 2019, surfaced. On Tuesday, Mayor Bonaccorso, acknowledged the recordings were real and apologized for his hate-filled comments. But the Republican mayor is refusing growing calls to resign.
“I'm embarrassed and ashamed to have spoken that way about a race of people. I can say that I am a very different person in 2022 than I was in 2020,” Mayor Bonaccorso said in a recorded message released on Tuesday night.
Lieutenant Manata said for him, the discrimination became apparent the very day he was being sworn in.
“Right in front of my family, I was told I was gonna be sworn in as Anthony, not Antonio, because my name would fit in better with the town. I would sound white enough,” Manta claims.
Manata decided to begin taping to protect himself, and document alleged harassment and civil rights violations. He said he followed policy and went to the town attorney to report the wrongdoing, but claims Bonaccorso was there waiting with that attorney and he was immediately suspended from his job.
“It’s a coverup. They all cover for each other. There is also the nepotism. It is rampant,” Manata said.
Manata settled with the town for $400,000, to turn over the tapes and stay quiet. But his attorney, Valerie Palma DeLuisi, said he was also forced into retirement and his portion of the settlement was meant to give him back pay and pension earnings for a promotion he was denied.
“This wasn’t extortion. This was not gold-digging. This was my client filing an HR complaint and the town telling him he was not allowed back at work as a result,” said Palma DeLuisi.
She said it was the town attorney's responsibility to handle the evidence of harassment and report the incidents to proper authorities.
“There is no excuse for the behavior of the Clark Police Department, the Township of Clark or the mayor. They chose to try to keep this quiet. They should have engaged in reform they chose not to,” she said.
Manata said he’s faced many hardships and the past 20 months have been miserable for him and his family. He admits that he would make the recordings again, but wishes he went public far sooner because he says it’s time for the mayor and others in town to be held accountable.
“They cannot make decisions about people’s opportunities for employment about their lives and liberties solely because of their race and their gender,” he said..
A spokesman for the New Jersey State Attorney General’s Office provided a statement regarding its investigation into Clark Township.
“Allegations of misconduct by the leadership within the Clark Police Department, as well as township leadership, are the subject of an ongoing investigation being conducted by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, and overseen by the Office of the Attorney General. The Office remains committed to a public release of our collective findings at the conclusion of the investigations, which will be comprehensive, thorough, and impartial. The Office of the Attorney General takes seriously the responsibility to ensure that the policing in our communities is fair and impartial, and never driven by bias, hate, or prejudice.”
A spokesperson for the Union County Prosecutor’s Office also provided a statement.
“The Attorney General’s Office through the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability has assumed the investigation into the leadership of the Clark Police Department and Township. The Union County Prosecutor’s Office has been directed to maintain their supersession authority over the Clark Police Department until further notice.”
NBC New York reached out to Mayor Sal Bonaccorso, the Township of Clark and the Clark Police Department. All declined to comment.