Thursday, October 7, 2021

Lawsuits target conduct of Wayne city manager

Lisa Nocerini
The conduct of Wayne City Manager Lisa Nocerini is the basis of two separate lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court seeking monetary damages from the city and city officials.

Attorneys for the city last week filed responses to both lawsuits denying all the assertions of the plaintiffs who each single out Nocerini's conduct as the basis for the award of monetary compensation.

Criminal charges filed against Wayne resident Mark Blackwell are central to the lawsuits filed by both Blackwell and Wayne Police Sgt. Abraham Hughes.

Blackwell is seeking damages for the harm and violation of his civil rights when misdemeanor charges of stalking and disturbing the peace were filed against him. He contends that Nocerini influenced those charges against him in retribution for his criticisms of her job performance at public meetings.

Those charges were summarily dismissed by Garden City District Court Judge Richard L. Hammer who found that Blackwell was within his rights and that the conduct cited in the complaint was constitutionally protected.

Blackwell contends in his court filings that the charges filed against him were a misuse of authority by Nocerini and that without her influence and interference in the process, he would not have been charged and subsequently forced to incur the financial burden of a legal defense or the subsequent damage to his reputation, along with mental anguish. 

That prosecution of Blackwell is also a crucial issue in the case filed against the city by Hughes, 2015 Wayne Police Officer of the Year. In his latest court filings, Hughes claims that Nocerini used her position of authority to interfere with the selection of a new police chief in her efforts to have Blackwell charged.

Hughes claims that he has video of an official from EMCO, the outside company employed by the city in 2018 to perform testing for a new police chief, admitting that Hughes obtained the highest score in that testing. He also asserts that both he and the other candidate for the job, current Chief Ryan Strong, were assured repeatedly by city and EMCO officials that the promotion would be based solely on those independent test scores. He infers that Strong's  agreement to serve a warrant on Blackwell was the inducement for Nocerini to interfere in the hiring procedures and award the position to Strong. 

Hughes claims the video and sworn affidavit from an EMCO employee, along with the timing and procedures in the serving of the warrant on Blackwell, prove Nocerini's interference in the process. Hughes also presented the court with signed affidavits from a number of former Wayne city officials and employees attesting to witnessing misuse of authority by Nocerini. Court filings including sworn statements from a former police chief, a director of personnel, a former city clerk and elected officials, among others.  

The city has continued to deny all the allegations in the lawsuits and has produced a letter from an EMCO employee asserting that Strong received the highest test scores. 

Mayor John Rhaesa has stated previously that the “lawsuits are completely without factual or legal merit and will be aggressively defended. As it pertains to both cases, the city looks forward to the exoneration of the city and its hard-working employees as it relates to both matters.”

One former official, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, said it is very clear that Nocerini “has weaponized the police department.” 

The official cited another case currently in the court system in which Nocerini personally hired a private investigator to pursue evidence and witnesses in an effort to criminally charge a former elected official. She claimed the official, with an accomplice, planted a weapon and suspicious substances in her car. Those criminal charges were filed only after the state police investigation found them without merit but reopened based on evidence submitted by Nocerini's investigator. Those charges have not yet been decided in court. 

Based on those case filings, however, Nocerini filed a lawsuit against the city for damages she claimed she suffered as a result of being victimized and accepted a financial settlement of an undisclosed amount from the city insurer in the matter.