Jersey City council hopeful defending cop accused of assault, false arrest

Jersey City council candidate Tom Zuppa is representing JCPD Sgt. Rossy Barzola in a civil rights lawsuit stemming from an altercation over a parking spot.

Rossy Barzola - Tom Zuppa - Donna Glaesener - Jersey City

JCPD Sgt. Rossy Barzola, Jersey City council candidate Tom Zuppa, and Donna Glaesener.

Tom Zuppa is a city council candidate in Jersey City running as an “Independent Voice for Ward C” against Councilman Richard Boggiano, a two-term incumbent that joined Mayor Steven Fulop’s ticket after previously running as an independent.

He’s also an attorney for a powerful law firm hired by the Fulop administration to defend a Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) sergeant accused of assault and false arrest.

Specifically, Zuppa’s representing Sgt. Rossy Barzola in a federal civil rights lawsuit stemming from an altercation that occurred on September 22, 2018, in Downtown Jersey City. In a statement released on September 25, 2018, Jersey City spokesperson Kimberly Wallace-Scalcione said this about the incident:

JCPD officers responded to Newark Ave and Coles Street for an assault on an off-duty law enforcement officer. Upon further investigation, it appears the 38-year-old officer was attempting to hold a parking space when the 50-year-old female driver of a 2017 Audi attempted to park in the spot. After exchanging words, the female officer was struck in the right leg by the car. The driver then exited the vehicle and struck the officer. A physical altercation ensued. Both parties were transported to local hospitals. The driver, Donna Glaesener, was treated and released. The officer suffered non-life-threatening injuries. Ms. Glaesener of Linden, NJ was placed under arrest for Aggravated Assault on a Police Officer.

Details from Donna Glaesener’s lawsuit, originally filed on September 18, 2019, contradict Wallace-Scalcione’s statement. In the amended complaint, filed on October 19, 2020, Glaesener states that she was on the way to a birthday celebration when she attempted to back into a parking space near 226 Newark Avenue.

Barzola – who was in plainclothes, off-duty – was standing in the spot and refused to move. A verbal altercation ensued and was followed by a physical altercation initiated by the JCPD sergeant, who never identified herself as a law enforcement officer, per details from the lawsuit.

Glaesener claims to have suffered a broken nose from Barzola allegedly smashing her cell phone into the plaintiff’s face.

When the JCPD arrived to the scene, Barzola “activated herself as a police officer and made a false report to responding officers,” according to the complaint. Glaesener was then charged with Aggravated Assault on a Police Officer, jailed for a weekend, and prosecuted by the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office (HCPO).

Shortly thereafter, Glaesener provided a video to JCPD and HCPO officials which “clearly establishes” that Barzola was the aggressor, per the lawsuit.

Glaesener’s charges were reduced from a felony to a summary misdemeanor after the video was produced, per details from the complaint. Additionally, while under duress, Glaesener says she reluctantly agreed to not press criminal charges against Barzola in exchange for the rest of the charges against her to be dropped.

If not for the video, the lawsuit states that Glaesener could’ve been imprisoned for years. Additionally, Glaesener claims financial losses due to the incident, “some or all of which may be permanent in nature.”

On December 4, 2019, the Jersey City Council approved a contract worth $50,000 to provide legal representation for Barzola. The law firm awarded the contract was Chasan Lamparello Mallon & Cappuzzo, PC – which is deeply connected to North Bergen Mayor/state Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D-32) and the HCPO.

Notably, Zuppa was an assistant prosecutor for the HCPO from September 2013 to September 2017. When asked about the lawsuit, and if JCPD Internal Affairs charged/disciplined Barzola regarding Glaesener’s allegations, Zuppa said “I cannot comment on pending litigation.”

On September 15, 2021, United States District Judge Claire C. Cecchi dismissed the City of Jersey City and other JCPD officers named as defendants from the lawsuit.

Zuppa never motioned to dismiss the complaint against Barzola, but in an answer to Glaesener’s lawsuit denied that the JCPD sergeant made a false report. As well, he described the suit as “frivolous and without any reasonable basis in law or fact.”

Glaesener is represented by Gregory A. Smith and Kevin M. Blake of the law firm Smith Mirabella Blake, LLC. Her husband, Michael Glaesener, is a co-plaintiff. Neither attorney responded to an email inquiring about the video referenced in the complaint or Cecchi’s ruling.

Of note, on March 6, 2020, NBC News reported that “Donna Glaesener, of Linden, New Jersey, alleges race and sex discrimination and retaliation by PATH, the Port Authority Trans-Hudson rail system.” That lawsuit claims Glaesener, a black woman and Port Authority employee, “was denied multiple promotions and job opportunities because they were given to white male colleagues.”

The three-count civil rights lawsuit against Jersey City alleges that Glaesener’s situation revealed a “systemic, pervasive atmosphere/tolerance of racism, tolerance for falsely charging citizens with crimes they did not commit, and a culture wherein the police are protected at all costs, no matter what the offense.”

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