A 44-year-old Drexel Hill man, Anthony Moore, says Officer Franco Sydnor assaulted him, striking his head repeatedly with a baton and kneeing him in the ribs, while Sydnor and other security personnel were ejecting him and his friends from Bally's Atlantic City on Oct. 6, 2012.
Moore maintains that Sydnor has a pattern of escalating incidents and seeks to tie Sydnor's actions to poor training, a broken Internal Affairs process, and a police department that he says is deliberately indifferent to its officers' bad behavior. Sydnor contends that it was Moore who became violent with him, and says any injuries Moore incurred were accidental.
On Monday, ahead of a trial set for May 14, lawyers debated whether the jury should be able to review the lengthy history of complaints against Sydnor. According to the filings, that history includes at least seven federal lawsuits and 21 Internal Affairs complaints, including nine for excessive force and two for sexual misconduct. Judge Jerome Simandle said he would take the matter under consideration.
Complaints the jury may get the opportunity to review include: an incident in which a man was allegedly punched in the face at the Tropicana and thrown into a wishing well; a 2012 incident involving a man named Peter Vazquez, who was disputing a bill at a club at Harrah's when Sydnor allegedly pulled him into a bear hug and slammed him to the ground; and a 2006 incident in which Sydnor was called in to escort a man named Paul Friedman from the Borgata and ended up allegedly throwing him into the back of his police car. (Moore's lawyer, Jennifer Bonjean, said exactly what happened next was unclear, but "15 minutes after being with Officer Sydnor, he ended up unconscious in the parking lot of an Applebee's with a head wound.")
"Those Internal Affairs investigations were all not sustained," Gregory Glickman, one of Sydnor's lawyers, said in court. "No charges were ever filed."
Atlantic City has sought to keep the records sealed.
According to Bonjean, the department's Internal Affairs office sustained one complaint from 2007 to 2014 out of more than 400 filed.
Plaintiffs have had marginally more success in federal court. Vazquez's case ended in a settlement, as did a claim by a Latrobe, Pa., man, Jason Cordial, who said Sydnor and other officers assaulted him at Harrah's while he was handcuffed to a bench in 2009.
Sydnor was also the detective on a case that ended in a $210,000 jury verdict for wrongful prosecution last year.
Glickman said any previous complaints, if true, were "isolated incidents." He said introducing them would prejudice the jury against Sydnor.
"If you allow this in, there's a chance they'll think my client's just a bad person," he said.
Bonjean will seek to prove a pattern on the parts of Sydnor and the police department.
Moore suffered a concussion and lacerations on his forehead that required surgical staples to close, according to his complaint. His friend went to the Atlantic City Police Department the next day to file a complaint and waited three hours, but no officer responded to accept it.
"This wasn't a mistake — and there are other incidents quite similar to this one where he claims it's a mistake and the evidence shows it's not," she said of Sydnor. "We see this over and over again — it escalates into use of force that becomes excessive … and he lies about it."
An expert report for Bonjean by Jon Shane, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, found that Atlantic City's Internal Affairs function was substandard, that investigations were superficial and incomplete, and that they are not sustained at a rate far higher than is standard. He also found that special employment details — like the ones at casinos — presented a particular risk.