When an Atlantic City police officer violently subdued a rowdy casino patron in 2012, the incident opened up more than a giant gash in the man’s head.
A federal lawsuit filed against Detective Franco Sydnor has revealed the veteran officer’s history of violence, including a stabbing prior to joining the force, and allegations of sexual assault and beatings on the job.
An attorney representing Anthony Moore, the Pennsylvania man on the receiving end of Sydnor’s baton in the 2012 incident at Bally’s casino, said the police department has ignored repeated warning signs that Sydnor is a rogue cop.
“You know you had a very rogue officer almost from the minute you hired him,” said Moore’s attorney, Jennifer Bonjean
Revelations about Sydnor comes as the Atlantic City Police Department faces criticism about the violent behavior of several of its officers. Officers, including Sydnor, have been accused of hitting or assaulting suspects and sexual assault of at least two women. The cases have cost the department millions of dollars in settlements and legal fees.
A spokesman for the police department referred all questions about the Sydnor case to the city solicitor. Attorney Morrison Fairbairn, representing the city in this matter, declined to comment.
The case against Sydnor
Moore visited Bally’s on Oct. 7, 2012, with his brother and a few friends. Some members of the group grew disruptive and were asked to leave.
Security camera footage shared by Bonjean, shows Bally’s security trying to escort Moore’s brother, Ciaran, and a friend to the door as words turn to shoving.
Sydnor, who was working a special detail that allows officers to earn extra money, allegedly threw Ciaran Moore to the floor during this exchange, prompting his brother, Anthony Moore, to get involved.
The plaintiff claims Sydnor pushed him, took out his baton and shouted, “You wanna go? You wanna go?”
Shoving soon escalated to a brawl by the exit and Moore said Sydnor and a Bally’s security officer threw him to the ground in the casino vestibule. Sydnor then struck him several times with his baton. Moore suffered two large gashes to his head that required surgical staples to close.
He suffered a concussion and still experiences headaches from the beating, according to his suit.
In addition to Sydnor, the civil rights lawsuit names the police department and Atlantic City as defendants.
Bonjean argues that the police department has long known about Sydnor’s tendency toward violence, pointing to several incidents over the last 20 years.
When Sydnor joined the department in 2003, he had already been charged with aggravated assault, terroristic threats, weapons possession and criminal mischief, according to court records.
In 1996, Sydnor was accused of stabbing his wife’s ex four times in an apparent domestic dispute. Through a plea deal, he pleaded guilty to a fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon charge.
He was then charged with terroristic threats in 2002 after he offered to kill the jailed husband of a woman with whom he was having an affair. Those charges were later dismissed.
While his record apparently wasn’t enough to disqualify him for a job with the Atlantic City Police Department, “the specific nature of Sydnor’s criminal history should have put the department on high alert that this rookie should be monitored extra closely,” according to Moore’s lawsuit.
Court documents submitted in Moore’s case go on to detail a string of internal affairs complaints.
Multiple claims of violence
In 2006, a woman claimed Sydnor followed her to her apartment and forced her to perform oral sex on him. Sydnor countered that he had gone to the woman’s apartment to assist her in getting help for drug addiction. An investigation resulted in no charges against Sydnor, but he was given a one-day suspension for being outside of his assigned district when he went to the woman’s apartment.
The next year, a fellow officer claimed Sydnor grabbed her upper thigh twice. An internal affairs investigation found that the claim could not be sustained.
In another incident, Sydnor and a fellow officer responded to Borgata Hotel Casino for a drunk and disorderly patron. While staff indicated they did not want to press charges and only wanted the man off their property, video surveillance outside of the casino shows Sydnor attempting to throw the uncooperative man head-first into the backseat of a patrol car.
The man was found a short time later unconscious in the parking lot of a restaurant suffering from a head injury. An investigation could not determine how the man suffered his injuries or how he ended up in the parking lot. While an internal affairs probe found that Sydnor used excessive force in how he handled the man, the charges were ultimately dismissed.
Other claims include a 2009 incident in which Sydnor intervened in a verbal dispute between a casino bouncer and a patron. The patron claimed Sydnor assaulted him without justification and caused serious facial injuries. Sydnor claimed the injuries were unintentional.
In another case, involving a fight at Tropicana casino, a patron claimed Sydnor punched him the face, kicked him in the nose and threw him in a wishing well. Syndor claimed that any injuries the man suffered were the result of the fight officers were trying to break up.
In a 2010 case, a customer at Harrah’s who was arguing with a manager over a bill said Sydnor intervened, picked up the customer in a bear hug and slammed him to the ground. While surveillance video recorded the incident, Sydnor’s report claimed the patron was the one who picked up and slammed Sydnor, according to Bonjean’s court filings,
Cases such as these are relevant, Bonjean argues, because they show Sydnor “routinely injures individuals and then claims that the injuries occurred in some other manner than how the complainant describes them and often contrary to the physical evidence.”
Such is the case in her client’s encounter, Bonjean argued.
While the video shows Sydnor striking Moore with his baton, the detective testified under oath that he did not intentionally hit Moore with the weapon.
He testified that the baton only “grazed” Moore in the head as Sydnor was falling to the ground during the scuffle.
“Sydnor’s testimony is nothing short of a bald-faced lie,” Bonjean said.
She called the case straightforward.
“This case comes down to Officer Sydnor using excessive force in a retaliatory fashion, which is prohibited by law,” Bonjean said Thursday. “There is no authority that allows an officer to punish someone because they are angry that they got pushed or angry that someone is not listening to them. It’s a pretty straightforward case.”
The case goes to trial in May
Sydnor has been named as a defendant in at least six other lawsuits while serving on special details, according to Bonjean.
As for his supervisors, instead of taking any meaningful action after the string of complaints against Sydnor, they promoted him to detective, she noted.
Documents filed by Sydnor’s attorney, Steven Glickman, state that of 15 excessive force complaints made against his client, Sydnor was exonerated in 13 of them “and the remaining two were not sustained.”
Glickman expressed concern Thursday over how his client can get a fair trial in light of recent publicity.
“I’m writing a letter to the judge asking the judge to try to curtail litigating this matter in the press,” he said. “It makes it difficult to get an impartial jury pool. Vilifying my client in the press with unfounded allegations is certainly not fair. I’m not about to start litigating this matter in the press, either.”
The trial is scheduled to being May 14 in Camden. The case will be tried in multiple stages, starting first with the case against Sydnor. If those allegations are substantiated, the second stage would determine the city’s liability. A third stage could determine punitive damages against Sydnor.
U.S. District Judge Jerome Simandle is currently considering whether the internal affairs reports from other cases will be admitted as evidence in the trial.
Sydnor remains on active duty with the department, a police spokesman confirmed. His salary was $96,938 last year.
Bonjean recently pursued two other excessive force cases against Atlantic City police.
Steven Stadler, severely injured after a 2013 arrest, won a civil suit against a now-retired K-9 officer and the department and was awarded $300,500 following a civil trial.
David Connor Castellani was awarded $3 million in a January settlement after he was torn up by a police K-9 during another 2013 arrest.