CAMDEN, N.J. (CN) - A New Jersey woman may amend claims that an Egg Harbor police officer sexually abused her for five months after finding pot found in her car, a federal judge ruled.
Officer Christopher Hoffman stopped Christine Meale as she drove with a male friend on Jan. 15, 2013 and then handcuffed the man, according to U.S. District Judge Renée Marie Bumb's summary of Meale's original complaint.
"Hoffman then proceeded to conduct a nonconsensual 'intrusive and unlawful search' of her that included fondling her and unbuttoning and pulling her pants partially down," the judge continued, in her Feb. 19 opinion.
Hoffman then telephoned defendant Officer Steven Hadley, "and allegedly informed him 'in sum and substance that he had  detained a woman who Hadley could sexually abuse,'" the opinion states.
Hadley found "a small bag of marijuana" during a nonconsensual search of her purse and car, and as Hoffman took her to the police station in his squad car, he told her "that if she 'worked with them,' she could avoid being charged."
Bumb's summary continues: "At the police station, while in the same room as Hoffman,
Hadley allegedly told the plaintiff, 'You know, this will all go away if you just give me a little.' The plaintiff was then taken to defendant Hadley's office. Once alone, defendant Hadley told the plaintiff, 'Calm down, babe, we can work something out,' and then demanded that she lift up her shirt." (Citations to original complaint omitted.)
Meale says she complied, but "begged to instead become an informant." She says Hadley agreed to drop "potential criminal drug charges" against her in exchange, but this confidential informant relationship was never made formal. Instead, Hadley "coerced her into engaging in sexual acts with him and sexually abused her" for months, according to the case summary.
"Plaintiff reluctantly acquiesced, fearful that she would go to prison where she would be separated from her husband and young daughter. This pattern of sexual abuse continued for several months until approximately May 2013." (Citations to original complaint omitted.)
Hadley was charged with four counts of criminal misconduct, pleaded guilty to one, and was sentenced to five years in prison, suspended, in November 2014. He also forfeited his pension.
Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Michael Donio said he gave Hadley the light sentence because Hadley had been seriously injured in a one-car freeway accident on Sept. 24, 2013, spent seven months in a hospital and is partially paralyzed and must use a wheelchair.
More than one woman accused Hadley of abusing his office for sex, Judge Donio said. Though Meale already had sued Hadley and the city when Hadley was sentenced, he did not plead guilty to her allegations that he demanded drugs and sex from her, according to New Jersey newspaper reports.
Meale sued the city and both officers for punitive damages on Sept. 22, 2014, alleging constitutional violations, conspiracy and state law torts.
Her original complaint begins: "Christine Meale was forced into a five-month nightmare where she was the victim of repeated sexual assault and emotional torment at the hands of disgraced Egg Harbor City police officer Steven Hadley."
The defendants sought dismissal of Meale's state law tort claims against the officers, the conspiracy claim against all defendants, and the punitive damages claim against the officers.
Bumb granted the motions with leave to amend on June 23, 2015, and partially granted Meale's motion to amend on Friday.
"The plaintiff has alleged that she was targeted by defendants Hadley and Hoffman for sexual harassment and abuse because she was a woman," Bumb wrote. "She also alleges that defendants Hadley and Hoffman had previously targeted other women for such abuse, but that they did not sexually abuse or harass men that they stopped or arrested."
Bumb found that Meale "has alleged sufficient facts to support her Section 1985 conspiracy claim," but she denied Meale's request to amend her state law tort claims for assault, battery, trespass, false arrest, conspiracy, slander and emotional distress against the officers.
"The 90-day window during which the plaintiff could have filed a notice of claim with the city expired, at the very latest, at the end of August 2013 or early September 2013," Bumb wrote. "Had extraordinary circumstances presented themselves, the plaintiff could have sought leave of a court to file late notice by May 2014. She did not do so."
Meale's attorney Jennifer Bonjean, of Brooklyn, N.Y., said Meale is "anxious to move forward with this case to prove her claims and most importantly to prove that the Egg Harbor City knew about these predator officers and did nothing to protect the women they preyed upon."
The city and Hoffman's attorney, Vincent Avery with Gordon & Rees in New York, said they are "pleased" that the court dismissed the tort claims, and will "vigorously defend" against the remaining claims.
"The city and Officer Hoffman emphatically deny the allegations asserted in those portions of the complaint" that pertain to them, Avery wrote, adding that they "look forward to being vindicated at the conclusion of this case."
Hadley's attorneys did not reply to emailed requests for comment Tuesday.
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