A former assistant Atlantic County prosecutor says he was harassed, transferred and, ultimately, fired after reporting alleged illegal practices by the office’s leadership.
Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon Tyner is using his position “in part to provide favors to politically appealing people, groups and/or organizations as a way in which Tyner is paving his future career path,” according to a lawsuit filed Friday in Cumberland County Superior Court.
The allegations include Tyner trying to use forfeiture money to fund a local group led by a political ally and an apparent bribery attempt.
Matthew Davidson, who was the union representative at the time of his termination, is the fourth current or former employee to file a whistleblower claim against the county’s top law enforcement official.
“We suspect there may be other claims on the horizon against Tyner by past and present employees,” said Michelle Douglass, the attorney for the current plaintiffs.
She called so many claims against the prosecutor “unprecedented in the history of the (Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office).”
Claims include Tyner threatening to fire Davidson this past July, after he refused to participate in the seizure of a home that he says was not used to further any criminal activity.
Around that same time, Davidson ran for election to the negotiating committee as part of the office’s collective bargaining unit, the suit states.
Minutes before entering a union meeting, Davidson alleges an assistant prosecutor known to be on the so-called “Team Tyner” approached him saying, “If Tyner were to pay a $5,000 bonus this time, would it make a difference in the union negotiations?”
When Davidson asked if that was a bribe, the unnamed assistant prosecutor allegedly replied: “Ohhh, you know he (Tyner) will be forced to get rid of attorneys that he should have gotten rid of a year ago.”
Inside the meeting, Davidson says he raised issues with the wage disparity, saying Tyner had “spent the office into a hole” by paying larger salaries to others, including Tyner’s brother, Michael Graham.
He also noted that Tyner bought him and his brother new SUVs while claiming there was not enough money to properly compensate the attorneys on staff.
Davidson was fired Nov. 6, less than two months after being elected as a union representative and a month after receiving a performance review that had no negative marks.
At that time, Davidson said he requested his personnel file, and was denied. When he finally received the file, the positive performance evaluation was not included, the suit claims.
It was turned over several weeks later, after a demand by the union, according to the suit.
Davidson was hired in May 2016, under the previous prosecutor. The next March, Tyner was appointed to lead the office.
Issues first started in May 2017, after Davidson reported an alleged attempt by First Assistant Prosecutor Cary Shill to do a favor for a defense attorney by circumventing a mandatory jail term for a defendant accused of a second driving while suspended for DUI.
When Davidson reported this as a violation of the criminal code, it allegedly resulted in an increased workload. While other assistant prosecutors were carrying 80 to 130 cases, Davidson said the database showed he had about 130 to 190 cases.
Ridicule and harassment allegedly followed. He was then put in charge of forfeiture funds, the money seized from illegal activities that is then used to make certain purchases.
That is when he was asked to push through money for the Coalition for a Safer Community, the suit states.
The coalition serves “a noble purpose” by working with law enforcement agencies to help educate and promote safe communities, according to the suit.
But, “regardless of the laudable purpose for which the Coalition serves, the expenditure of forfeiture monies to non-law enforcement agencies is strictly regulated” by the state.
Despite saying he was told not to, Davidson notified the Department of Criminal Justice — as required — to approve the funds, which sparked questions from the deputy attorney general.
Davidson eventually met with DCJ investigators about the funding requests.
In addition to Tyner, Shill and Formica, the suit also names the county.
The suit demands a jury trial and also litigation hold on any routine destruction of documents “to ensure the preservation of relevant documents.”
Attorneys for Tyner were reviewing the litigation and have not yet responded to a request for comment.