Plaintiff claims retaliation for misconduct complaints
By: Bennett Loudon//April 26, 2023
Plaintiff claims retaliation for misconduct complaints
By: Bennett Loudon//April 26, 2023//
A former Rochester Police Department investigator is suing the city for allegedly retaliating against him for reporting police misconduct and cooperating with investigations.
Plaintiff Aaron Wilcox filed the lawsuit in state Supreme Court on Tuesday. He is represented by attorneys Maureen T. Bass and Alexander J. Fantauzzo, of Abrams Fensterman LLP.
After retiring, Wilcox reapplied for his position with the police department, but the department “refused to rehire him because of the actions he took to stop the toxic work environment,” the suit claims.
During 20 years with the RPD, Wilcox received exemplary employment evaluations and numerous awards, according to the suit.
According to the suit, Wilcox’s two supervisors, Lt. Jeffrey LaFave and Capt. Naser Zenelovic, disliked each other. The two men were interested in the same woman, while Zenelovic had a relationship with the woman.
In December 2019, LaFave sent a voice recording to Wilcox. The recording was a sexually explicit discussion between Zenelovic and a woman. A police radio is recognizable in the background.
LaFave told Wilcox to “pass the recording around to other officers so that everyone would know what Captain Zenelovic, a married man, was doing while he was on duty,” according to the suit.
“Over the next two years, Investigator Wilcox would be subjected to additional chaos and adverse employment actions overflowing from this intense feud between his two supervisors,” the suit claims.
On April 11, 2020, Wilcox physically stopped a suspect from escaping from an interview room. Zenelovic attempted to hide the incident from LaFave by ordering Wilcox to not complete required paperwork, including a subject resistance report.
LaFave found out about what happened and reported Wilcox to internal affairs for not filing the report. Zenelovic had charges filed against Wilcox and his partner for failing to file the report, even though he was the supervisor who ordered him to not file the report, the suit claims.
On Oct. 15, 2020, LaFave physically confronted Wilcox and his partner in an elevator, according to the suit.
“LaFave was intimidating, used obscene language, and challenged Investigator Wilcox to fight him,” the suit claims.
LaFave pursued Wilcox out of the building and then attempted to fight Zenelovic. Zenelovic told Wilcox to file a report with internal affairs.
The department issued a stay away order against LaFave in favor of Wilcox and his partner. But several months later, Wilcox learned that the chief had cancelled the order.
“The highest levels of the RPD took steps to hide the hostile work environment and make individuals like Investigator Wilcox feel like there was no protection from inappropriate supervisors,” the suit claims.
Wilcox was dating a female investigator who complained to him that Zenelovic was stalking her by using department equipment, making unwanted phone calls, and sending unwanted text messages while on and off duty, and making sexually inappropriate statements to her, according to the suit.
She did not want to make a formal complaint about Zenelovic because she believed it would have a negative effect on her career, according to the complaint.
On Sept. 25, 2021, Wilcox was with his girlfriend at his home in the Greece when Zenelovic went to the house.
“While on duty and in his RPD issued vehicle, Captain Zenelovic traveled to Investigator Wilcox’s home in the middle of the night,” the suit claims.
“Zenelovic traveled to Investigator Wilcox’s home while on duty in an attempt to scare and intimidate Investigator Wilcox,” the suit claims.
Wilcox made an internal complaint about Zenelovic’s alleged sexual harassment, stalking and misconduct. After an investigation, Wilcox was told that Zenelovic said he was embarrassed by the incident and that Zenelovic would be retiring in two weeks.
Wilcox was warned “that pursuing his complaint would look bad for him and his girlfriend,” the suit claims.
Internal affairs “secured a memorandum from Captain Zenelovic addressed to Chief of Police David Smith acknowledging that Investigator Wilcox should not have been charged in connection with not filing the report.”
Zenelovic did not retire and remained Wilcox’s supervisor.
In November 2021, Wilcox applied for off-duty part-time work with the Monroe County Sherriff’s Office. During the interview process, as the result of a background check, Wilcox discovered that the charges relating to the April 11, 2020, incident were still on his record.
Wilcox claims that in two cases he requested backup from other officers, which never arrived. The suit claims the backup was withheld because of Wilcox’s reporting of the misconduct of his supervisors.
When Wilcox asked for the assistance of the officer assistance program, he was put on sick time instead “because otherwise the department would find out about Captain Zenelovic’s actions,” according to the suit.
In January 2022, the chief removed the use of force violation from Wilcox’s file.
“After having been warned … to keep quiet about the allegations against Captain Zenelovic, and in view of the conduct of members of the RPD as well as the prevalent sexual harassment, (Wilcox) felt that he had no choice but to retire from the RPD,” according to the suit.
Wilcox retired in January 2022 after 23 years with the Rochester Police Department. Zenelovic also retired, then was hired as deputy chief in the town of Greece.
On Feb. 16, 2022, Wilcox called 911 and made a report to the Greece Police Department about Zenelovic’s stalking.
“The Greece Police Department did not respond to Investigator Wilcox’s 911 call,” the suit claims.
Wilcox then called the Greece town supervisor’s office “to inform them about Zenelovic’s history of misconduct,” according to the suit.
The supervisor’s office also did not respond, according to the suit.
Wilcox contacted the State Police to request an investigation into Zenelovic.
“State Police commenced a criminal investigation into Deputy Chief Zenelovic involving issues of official misconduct and the falsification of police business records. To this day, plaintiff is advised that the investigation remains open, and interviews are ongoing,” according to the suit.
Wilcox also filed a complaint with the state Department of Human Rights for gender discrimination and retaliation, but the DHR issued a finding of no probable cause.
In October, Wilcox reapplied to work at the RPD as an investigator.
Wilcox met with Chief David Smith to talk about the application. The Chief asked if Wilcox still had any active lawsuits about the city or the RPD, and specifically asked whether any criminal investigations were still open, according to the complaint.
Wilcox replied that a criminal investigation was continuing, and he planned to cooperate with the investigation.
The suit claims his application was rejected in retaliation for his internal reports of misconduct, the 911 call to the Greece Police Department, and his cooperation into the pending criminal investigation.
Wilcox asked the chief why his application was rejected, “and he was told that the City of Rochester’s Corporation Counsel’s office had advised the RPD to not provide a reason for the denial.”
Barbara Pierce, the city’s communications director, said the city had no comment on the lawsuit because city officials have not yet been served.
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