Police officer sent to rehab for doing scratch-off lottery tickets on duty, lawsuit claims

Philip DeVencentis

WAYNE, N.J. – A veteran New Jersey police officer is suing the force's top brass for harassment, claiming he was confined to his home after being diagnosed with PTSD and wrongfully pegged as a gambling addict.

Cpl. Rick Vanderclock, a 16-year member of the police department in Wayne, claims in a lawsuit that the chief of police trivialized post-traumatic stress disorder as "not a real affliction" and made him stay home against the advice of two doctors.

The corporal further says he was sent hundreds of miles away to a rehab facility for gambling addicts after an anonymous tipster allegedly called the department and said he was doing scratch-off lottery tickets while on duty.

Wayne Police Cpl. Rick Vanderclock is suing the police chief and township, claiming discrimination and harassment.

Vanderclock's 41-page complaint, filed July 10 in state Superior Court in Paterson, claims that in spite of his spotless record, he is a victim of a conspiracy to deliberately cause him embarrassment and mental anguish.

The suit, which asks for a trial by jury, names as defendants the township, Chief James Clarke, retired Capt. Keith O'Sullivan, Township Attorney Matthew Giacobbe and Township Administrator Neal Bellet.

O'Sullivan, Giacobbe and Bellet did not return calls seeking comments. Clarke said he had no knowledge of the suit.

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Vanderclock's attorney, Ralph Ferrara, said his client has been a "great cop, for a long time" and "deserves a lot better treatment than what he's been receiving."

The nine-count suit alleges Vanderclock's rapport with the department's most senior officers began to fall apart when Clarke became chief in 2015. By the end of the next year, after Vanderclock publicly supported a patrolman who was terminated, it declined even more.

The terminated officer, Erik Ferschman, sued the department and was reinstated in 2017 when a judge ruled his punishment was too severe.

Under Clarke's command, the suit alleges, Vanderclock has been subjected to a pattern of abuse, racketeering behavior and hostility in the workplace.

About the time Clarke became chief, the suit alleges, Vanderclock underwent surgery for an off-duty injury; he underwent another surgery in 2017.

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After each procedure, Vanderclock was placed on light duty for seven weeks. However, the suit alleges, the defendants' assignment of light duty was discriminatory because he was "confined to a small room, by himself," forbidden to talk to co-workers.

The suit claims Vanderclock again was forced to endure irrational confinement after being diagnosed with PTSD.

Vanderclock was "deeply disturbed" after he responded to a car fire and witnessed the driver burn to death. As a result of being traumatized, the suit alleges, he was "temporarily disabled" and unable to report to duty.

While Vanderclock was on leave, the suit alleges, he disobeyed medical opinions by heeding Clarke's demand to stay home. One doctor reportedly was concerned that such isolation would exacerbate his PTSD symptoms.

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The suit says the defendants' misconduct caused Vanderclock to miss a chance to take a promotion exam because he was not notified of the test, as required, while on leave.

In January 2018, the suit alleges, Vanderclock was confronted by O'Sullivan with a list of 126 department violations he allegedly committed over a three-day span.

Among those false allegations, the suit claims, were that Vanderclock left his assigned patrol zone and gambled on duty. As a result of the charges, he was suspended without pay – and without due process – for 20 consecutive 12-hour shifts, beginning June 1, 2018.

On the same day, the suit alleges, Vanderclock had to check himself into a "medically unnecessary" in-patient program for gambling addicts, at his own expense, in Florida, even though he offered to go to an accredited facility in New Jersey.

Vanderclock was never diagnosed with a gambling addiction, the suit alleges, and he does not have gambling debt.

Follow Philip DeVencentis on Twitter: @PhilDeVencentis


This article originally appeared on North Jersey Record: NJ officer accuses bosses of harassment, trivializing PTSD