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New Jersey Mayor, Police Chief, and other Official Caught on Audio Using Racial Slurs; Whistleblower Takes Payout to Keep Quiet

A New Jersey mayor is denying claims of racism after recordings that seem to show him and other town officials using racial epithets to describe Black people were made public by a local newspaper this week.

In the seven recordings, Mayor Sal Bonaccorso and Police Chief Pedro Matos apparently referred to Black people as N-words. Bonaccorso also called them “Spooks” and Sgt. Joseph Teston called a Black suspect an “animal” with a big “monkey head.”

Clark Mayor Sal Bonaccorso was caught on a recording using racial slurs. He is denying the claims. (Photo: YouTube/TAPinto Local screenshot)

Clark Township officials agreed to pay $400,000 to a police lieutenant who secretly recorded the conversations to keep them under wraps. Lt. Antonio Manata said he turned the recordings over to Clark, but they were made public by NJ Advance Media on March 30.

Teston and Matos did not respond to the allegations, but the mayor said he was “blindsided” and had no knowledge of the recordings. He suggested they may be altered.

“I have many, many Black friends in my life, many of them; and employees here and everything else,” Bonaccorso told reporters. “I mean, I’ve been here for 22 years, never had a problem, and all of a sudden this is coming up? I find it offensive. I do.”

Bonaccorso reportedly called the November 2019 meeting that initiated Manata’s settlement.

Manata started secretly recording the conversations that go far back as 2017 after being “outspoken” against his colleagues’ racist and sexist talks for several years.

Manata’s attorneys’ drafted a lawsuit against the city, but he placed it on hold when officials offered to allow him to take a paid leave until he retired at the rank of captain in February. He reportedly collected $289,700 while being on leave for 25 months, and Manata received a one-time payment of $275,000. His lawyer received $125,000 for legal fees.

Manata agreed to give Clark his draft lawsuit and notes. He was required to provide the township with a sworn statement detailing all the materials he was turning over and attesting that he had relinquished his copies. The draft lawsuit was also obtained by the local paper.

Six months after the agreement was made, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into “credible allegations of misconduct” in the Clark Police Department. The investigation is still ongoing, and prosecutors have kept the details hush-hush.

Clark is a township of about 15,000 residents in Union County. About 92 percent of the population is white, and 1.8 percent is Black.

Much of the recordings are centered around Clark’s high school girls basketball against a city with a majority Black population in 2017.

A Black puppet was discovered hanging by the neck in a room assigned to Plainfield’s basketball team. Bonaccorso went to a Plainfield City Council meeting, apologized and promised a full investigation. Yet, the mayor and the police chief can be heard on the recordings mocking the incident.

“I’m thinking about reopening that case,” Matos told Manata while going through old evidence in storage in March 2019.

“Why?” Manata asked.

“Because I’m going to prove that them [expletive] [N-words] did it,” Matos said.

Union County Prosecutor’s Office Deputy Chief Dean Marcantonio, left, with Clark Police Department Chief Pedro Matos. Matos was caught on a recording using racial slurs. (Photo: @UCPONJ/Twitter)

In July of the same year, a police officer pointed out ropes hanging from the ceiling at Clark Recreation Center, and while the mayor was there, he reportedly reflected on the high school incident.

“We [expletive] hang the spooks up there,” Bonaccorso said, as someone laughs in the background. Bonaccorso called “such [expletive] bull—-.”

“How about I had to go to the Plainfield [expletive] council meeting in front of a room full of them and get up and talk about it?” he added.

Bonaccorso was also recorded at the police headquarters using the N-word in his list of “things you don’t count on.”

Manata was asked about a suspect he was pursuing in another encounter with the mayor.

“You chase that spook around? What spook are you guys chasing around, with a red shirt?” Bonaccorso said on the recording. “They was looking for some spook, walking around or something.”

Teston, the internal affairs supervisor, said a Black man’s with a “big [expletive] monkey head,” mugshot reminded him of a photo from National Geographic on the recordings.

Clark Township Attorney Mark Dugan slammed the allegations in a statement to NJ Advance Media.

“Mayor Bonaccorso does not comment on unattributed or anonymous allegations,” Dugan said. “He does state that it is not his practice to speak in the manner described and that he does not recall doing so.”

“During his tenure as mayor, Mayor Bonaccorso has treated and continues to treat everyone fairly, with justice and with dignity, and has never acted nor been found to have acted in any way in a discriminatory manner,” he said.

However, Bonaccorso has reportedly received backlash for racially insensitive comments in the past. In June 2020, Bonaccorso was at a Black Lives Matter rally when demonstrators asked him to declare that he was “pro-Black,” according to reports.

“I am pro-Black for all the good Black people that I know in my life,” Bonaccorso said. After drawing jeers from the crowd, he later backpedaled in a Facebook post, according to reports.

“Answer is, of course, and unequivocally, yes,” Bonaccorso said.

Manata’s attorney Valerie Palma DeLuisi said prosecutors — who took over administration of the police department months after Manata initiated his lawsuit — are holding onto Mantana’s pension payments until the investigation is over.

If Manata breaches the settlement agreement’s confidentiality requirements he is required to pay back the $275,000.

“I believe the prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into my client with impure motives,” DeLuisi said. “And that they are intentionally delaying the conclusion of the investigation into my client to prevent him from receiving the pension he rightfully earned.”

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