CAPE MAY — City Council unanimously approved a lawsuit settlement Tuesday that gives Police Capt. Robert Sheehan, the previous police chief, a payout of $800,000.
The settlement does not reinstate him as chief.
The vote Tuesday night at City Hall drew a mixed reaction from a crowd of 30 people. The settlement will cost city taxpayers $440,000; the remaining $360,000 will be paid by the city's insurer.
Council, including Mayor Clarence “Chuck” Lear, blamed the lawsuit and its fallout on former Mayor Ed Mahaney and members of the previous City Council.
“You might say that Rob won, and the previous administration lost,” Lear said, adding that Mahaney and some council members have put this burden in the lap of the residents.
Deputy Mayor Shaine Meier said he felt Sheehan was “wronged” and that the decision to approve the settlement was the most responsible one.
“This City Council does not have the right or power to reinstate Rob Sheehan,” he said. “Our hands are tied.”
Sheehan’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Sheehan, who has been with the department since 1990, was named police chief in March 2014. A year later he was demoted to captain after a city inquiry determined that Lt. Clarence “Chuck” Lear took compensatory time against department policy under Sheehan’s watch.
The Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office said there was no evidence Lear or Sheehan did anything wrong.
The man who accused Lear and Sheehan of wrongdoing during the city inquiry was John Campbell.
Campbell, a former union president and retired officer, recently pleaded guilty to embezzling about $105,000 from New Jersey Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 59 in Cape May between 2012 and 2016.
Lear retired from the Police Department after 37 years and is now the city’s mayor.
Sheehan sued the city in March 2015 to get his job back under the state whistleblower act, claiming he was retaliated against after he criticized the way the city handled the internal investigation.
Although Sheehan was cleared of wrongdoing, City Council failed to reinstate him as chief. It instead promoted Anthony Marino, a 26-year veteran of the department, to chief.
Marino said after the meeting that the morale is good in the Police Department, and that it was not awkward working with Sheehan while the lawsuit persisted.
“It hasn’t been a problem,” he said. “We’ve been very professional about it.”