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Tyner led Prosecutor’s Office harassment of victim, suit claims

The former Atlantic County prosecutor used his position to target a domestic violence victim and help those he was politically and personally connected to, according to a lawsuit filed Friday.

The suit alleging the Prosecutor’s Office filed false charges against the plaintiff, allowed others to harass him and even had the victim’s children temporarily removed from his home was first discussed in a tort claim filed in September.

It names former Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon Tyner, his First Assistant Prosecutor Cary Shill and office spokeswoman Donna Weaver.

Tyner abruptly resigned over the summer without explanation, amid growing allegations about his tactics, including several upheld by Attorney General Office investigations. Shill is now acting prosecutor.

The case involves criminal charges filed against Anthony Hargrove in 2019, claiming he knowingly infected the victim with HIV. Another victim eventually came forward resulting in additional charges.

BreakingAC is not identifying the victim due to the nature of the charges. The suit names him only as John Doe.

Tyner has a history with the victim, and is close friends with Hargrove’s father, Bishop Robert Hargrove II of Cathedral Grace Family Church in Atlantic City.

The former prosecutor’s ties to the elder Hargrove include “business relationships, and collaboration through the Coalition of Safe Communities and the Fellowship of Churches of Atlantic City,” the suit claims.

“Tyner wanted to politicize his connections with these agencies and curry favor with them,” according to the suit. “He provided them with unwarranted benefits including the misuse of forfeiture funds to benefit the Coalition and the Fellowship of Churches.”

The victim also claimed Anthony Hargrove and others physically attacked him outside the elder Hargrove’s church. The victim got a temporary restraining order against Anthony Hargrove as a result.

But, despite the victim’s protestations, Tyner refused to recuse himself from the case, an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office later confirmed.

On Aug. 18, 2019, Bishop Hargrove told church members that “it’s good to know people in high places at the prosecutor’s office and Anthony’s charges will be dismissed soon,” the suit alleges.

That December, the Attorney General’s Office reassigned all cases involving the victim to Cape May County in order “to avoid any potential conflict or appearance of conflict,” spokesman Peter Aseltine told BreakingAC at the time.

Shill, who was then Tyner’s second in command, was tasked with making that transfer. But that never happened, emails from the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office confirmed.

Tyner “abused his position as the prosecutor for his own personal benefit and to benefit those he was politically and socially connected to and as a retaliatory instrument in violation of the public trust,” attorney Michelle Douglas told BreakingAC of the most recent lawsuit.

The harassment against Doe allegedly began two years before the Hargrove case, when Tyner claimed the man committed welfare fraud and made false statements.

Despite the Office of Administrative Law finding the charges were false around September or October of 2017, Tyner had the case presented to a grand jury that November, the suit claims. The charges were dismissed May 25, 2018.

The harassment allegedly continued with Anthony Hargrove, including him twice putting out lists of men he slept with in an attempt to intimidate his victim, the suit claims.

“Over the last two years or so, Anthony Hargrove has threatened that his dad — Bishop Robert Hargrove — and the county Prosecutor Damon Tyner are best friends and Damon Tyner would handle me for them,” Doe wrote in one previous filing. “Recently, I was threatened that Damon Tyner is aware of this now and things won’t end good for me.”

Similar claims were allegedly made by the office’s spokeswoman, Weaver, when she and Doe wound up at the same party.

“At this cookout, Weaver was upset because Plaintiff was at the cookout and when Plaintiff declined to leave after Weaver became upset at him, she then began screaming that she hated him, Tyner hated him, and the ACPO hated him and that she was ‘going to get’ Plaintiff,” the suit claims. Weaver also “disclosed that Plaintiff had HIV and they were going to make sure that
Hargrove ‘got off,’ and then yelled some other things at him.”

Neither Weaver nor Shill responded to an email seeking comment.

The lawsuit also notes that, in emailed statements to two media outlets, Tyner’s office took the unusual step of naming the victim, despite the domestic and sexual nature of the cases.

“At the request of the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office, the Office of the Attorney General has superseded in all pending cases involving (victim’s name) as a victim or defendant,” Weaver wrote in separate emails to reporters at BreakingAC and NJ.com.

Neither outlet repeated Doe’s real name in their reporting.

Not only did the Dec. 18, 2019, email name the victim of a sex crime, but it was also inaccurate.

An investigation found that Tyner never notified the office of any conflict, and that the move was made after the victim complained to the Attorney General’s Office.

“John Doe’s complaint is not isolated, as there are a number of other claims that are similar,” Doe’s attorney said.

Douglas recently settled a $1.5 million lawsuit against Tyner on behalf of three women who previously worked for him.

Diane Ruberton, Heather McManus and Donna Fetzer claimed Tyner created a culture of sexism and fear in the office. He allegedly fired Ruberton — who served as acting prosecutor before Tyner’s appointment — for questioning his tactics.

Another former assistant prosecutor, Matthew Davidson, settled for $230,000, after claiming Tyner harassed and then fired him for allegations he made of unethical practices.

Douglas said Tyner illustrates what is wrong with qualified immunity, which grants government officials certain protections from civil suits.

Instead, Douglas noted, taxpayers are stuck paying the bill.

“It’s OPM syndrome: other people’s money,” she said. “Both state and federal officials must be held accountable in court when they violate the law and harm those they’re supposed to protect.”

The suit lists seven counts, including malicious prosecution, abuse of process, malicious use of process, and several rights violations.

It does not give a monetary amount.

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