JCPD P.O. Erika Vergara claims NJSP Capt. Thomas Keyes sent unsolicited lewd text messages and spanked her multiple times at the state police laboratory in Hamilton, NJ, according to a federal lawsuit.
A female officer employed by the Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) claims she was the victim of sexual abuse at a New Jersey State Police (NJSP) facility from July 2017 to February 2018 and is now suing the state police.
According to the lawsuit filed in federal court, JCPD P.O. Erika Vergara says NJSP Capt. Thomas Keyes, who is named as a defendant, sent her lewd text messages on various occasions and spanked her multiple times at the NJSP Central Regional Laboratory in Hamilton, NJ. As well, Keyes allegedly referred to Vergara’s partner, JCPD P.O. Dignora Aquino, as “Nikki Minaj” – a reference to Aquino’s supposedly large buttocks.
Most importantly, due to the actions/inaction of the defendants, Vergara claims the alleged sexual abuse has caused severe emotional distress and she’s had difficulty living a normal life since.
Even though he was retired at the time and apparently working in a civilian capacity, Keyes still wore NJSP gear, was addressed as captain, and was in charge of Ballistics DNA, per the lawsuit. A May 2017 NJTV report highlighting improvements at NJSP forensic labs refers to Keyes as a captain.
At all times relevant to the lawsuit, Vergara and Aquino were assigned to the JCPD’s property room and were tasked with delivering/transferring evidence to the NJSP lab in Hamilton. Vergara had been assigned to the property room since October 2013 and was tasked with handling DNA & DUI evidence.
The complaint states that it was possible for others to deliver such evidence to the NJSP, but given that Vergara was the evidence cataloger, “allowing any other person to deliver the evidence complicates the chain of custody.”
Sexual abuse allegations against Capt. Thomas Keyes
Details from the lawsuit claim that Vergara met Keyes after he had befriended Aquino in their official capacities related to the NJSP Ballistics Unit. It’s not clear when Keyes began referring to Aquino as “Nikki Minaj,” but it’s stated that both female officers would ignore Keyes.
The situation escalated in July 2017 when Vergara claims Keyes “forcefully slapped” her buttocks, while she was in full uniform, in the parking lot outside the NJSP laboratory during a group conversation involving Aquino. The lawsuit states that the female officers were in shock and had no idea how to react.
Specifically, on July 25, 2017, Keyes texted Vergara “Wassup Man-al-a-pan?” – which was supposedly referencing her mispronunciation of Manalapan Township earlier in the day. Additionally, Vergara claims she never gave Keyes her phone number, and that he obtained it by looking at her phone after “asking to see a news video she was watching.”
Hours after that message, Vergara sent a text response (which isn’t detailed in the lawsuit), and Keyes responds “Damn, I don’t have ‘Booty Calls’ get back 2 me that quick, I like that…”
The complaint states that over the following weeks Keyes sent at least five more “sexually aggressive text messages”:
- “Sucks & not a good suck either. Raining there?” (August 2, 2017, no response by Vergara)
- “How’s it going, am I going 2 C U on Telemundo acting on as soap opera w/ azz & boobies out?” (August 4, 2017, no response by Vergara)
- “Alright baby, have a good trip, by the time I see U again summer will Be over. Don’t lose 2 much weight now, I gotta have something 2 hold onto.” (August 15, 2017, no response by Vergara)
- Later on August 15, 2017, Keyes messages “Don’t lose 2 much, U gotta have a little “backyard” 2 play in.” Vergara responds “Where do you get these sayings from?” and Keyes writes back “In ur case I just look at what ‘ur working with’.” (Vergara claims she didn’t reply to Keyes’ response).
The situation escalates again in October 2017 when Keyes allegedly slapped Vergara’s buttocks a second time – in a office cubicle while she was speaking with Det. Tietjan (there’s apparently two “Det. Tietjan” in the NJSP and no first name is given).
It was at that point Vergara says she began avoiding Keyes as much as possible. According to the lawsuit, three separate times in October 2017 Vergara avoided text messages from Keyes requesting they meet in person. He also sent messages during Thanksgiving & Christmas – the latter included the comment “Oh, U getting a little more back there I C” – which received minimal responses from Vergara.
The situation reached a tipping point on February 20, 2018, when Keyes allegedly “pinched and slapped” Vergara’s buttocks while she was at the DNA intake counter speaking with Lauren Perdue – a civilian employee with the NJSP. The complaint states that Perdue described Keyes’ approach to that of “a dog salivating after a bone.”
It’s believed that the incident occurred in view of cameras, per the lawsuit. Later that day, at approximately 7 PM, the complaint states Vergara and Keyes exchanged the following texts:
- Erika Vergara: Hey its Erika Vergara from JCPD. I just want to address an issue I’m having so we don’t have a serious misunderstanding. I feel very uncomfortable when you smack or pinch my butt while I’m conducting business in the lab. This is the 3rd time it’s happened and it makes me extremely uncomfortable. My aim is to keep a strictly professional relationship with all of my law enforcement counterparts I interact with on a daily basis. Please don’t let that occur again, and please keep it professional with me when I visit the lab. Thank You.
- Thomas Keyes: Understood all of our interactions will be on a professional basis from now on.
After discussing the situation with Aquino, then notifying her superiors in the JCPD, Vergara gave a statement and filed an incident report against Keyes with the NJSP on March 5, 2018.
The lawsuit states Keyes was relieved of his post soon thereafter. A spokesperson for the NJSP declined to comment on this story, citing pending litigation, but did confirm that Keyes’ employment with the state police ended in March of 2018.
Of interest, the complaint claims that the NJSP could have “reasonably foreseen that hiring a person with the attributes of the employee, Defendant Keyes, created a risk of harm to others, whether on or off the premises.”
Vergara is being represented by attorney Robert R. Fuggi.
When asked for comment on the lawsuit, Fuggi stressed that the law enforcement officers involved are entrusted with very important evidence and the inappropriate sexual behavior raises problems for the NJSP. The attorney added that he hopes Vergara’s complaint will create better environments for women in male-dominated workplaces.