Chief Victor “Buddy” Amato, who runs a law enforcement agency in New Jersey enforcing animal cruelty laws, sent a slew of racist and homophobic text messages to his staff, according to a lawsuit filed in Monmouth County Superior Court.
The “pervasive” messages included themes that black people resemble primates, according to the suit, filed on March 2. Other messages allegedly disparaged LGBT people and casually referenced rape.
“I have never in my life seen anything that bad,” Sue DesMarais, who first became a sworn officer in 1997 and started as a volunteer investigator for the animal-protection agency last August, told BuzzFeed News. Her suit names Amato and the Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). Under New Jersey law, the SPCA is a law enforcement agency.
“For a police chief to come out and put out those vile, hate-filled text messages — it shouldn’t exist," DesMarais said.
DesMarais shared screenshots of nearly two dozen text messages described in the suit with BuzzFeed News, including one that compares Michelle Obama’s face to a chimp’s. Another features rhyming invective, allegedly signed by Amato, that says civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton “should find a bullet marked for his head.”
The message allegedly says: “He’s a bobble head walking turd! Who smells like shit with every word! That life is wrong and people hate, his color and race and his followers fate! But as we know this pice [sic] of dung, this walking condom of sub human scum! Should find a bullet marked for his head! Right through his bobble an ounce of lead!
Amato allegedly signs off, "From the book of Bud!”
“What he is putting out is there is the exact stereotype of why people hate police officers,” DesMarais said. “He is putting this hate into the world. This is what gets cops killed.”
Other messages focus on policing, including Amato allegedly warning his staff on Nov. 14, 2014, about dangers of patrolling “racially mixed areas." Another text, from December 2014, features a famously doctored image of a protester holding a sign that purportedly says, "No mother should have to fear for her son's life every time he robs a store."
Another text message, according to the lawsuit, alludes to dogs urinating on Michael Brown, the black man whose killing by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, last summer triggered national protests. "That's why they left him in the street for a couple hours," the message allegedly said. "They did not want to disturb the dogs that stopped to take a hard piss!"
Reached by phone, Amato said he was unaware of the lawsuit and referred questions to his director at SPCA. “I have got no comment on any of that,” he told BuzzFeed News. Asked specifically he had any comment on allegations that he sent messages that were allegedly racist, intimated the homicide of Sharpton, and compared first lady Obama to a primate, Amato said, “None whatsoever.”
Officers for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals derive authority from Title 4 of New Jersey state law, which allows the them to carry firearms, arrest suspects, and issue court summonses. Working under authority of the statewide agency, Chief Amato leads the Monmouth County SPCA.
After a 12-year career in law enforcement working for several New Jersey townships, interrupted when she was injured in the line of duty, DesMarais joined Monmouth County SPCA last year as a volunteer investigator working under Amato. DesMarais intended to work her way into becoming an officer.
“It was such a perfect fit for me — to still feel productive in the law enforcement community and be involved in animal welfare,” DesMarais said.
But DesMarais became increasingly alarmed, she told BuzzFeed News, as the text messages persisted.
One message appears to fabricate a Kwanzaa mythology involving “three not so wise men [who] brought welfare checks to the baby chimp Cornelius. And when Cornelius first spokeyou could hear him say which one of you raped mymother?" Another allegedly refers to a “gay slope” and an Asian man.
Another message, apparently adapting a Christmas song, allegedly invokes Santa, sodomy, and a “guy with a slit for a dick.” Yet another asks for advice on hygiene products from female agents after Amato ostensibly announced plans for a “sex change operation.”
DesMarais told BuzzFeed News she filed complaints about the messages with SPCA authorities on Jan. 12 and Jan. 16. But she said at that point she was “cut off" by her superiors, so she sought help from Garden State Equality, a New Jersey-based LGBT rights group, and filed the lawsuit.
Amato declined to say whether he was aware of internal complaints filed in January.
Two people who answered the phone at the Monmouth County SCPA, which is also named in the lawsuit, said the only person authorized to speak on the matter was CEO Jerry Rosenthal. Rosenthal did not respond to BuzzFeed News' requests to comment on the lawsuit.
“The messages were harassing to Plaintiff in that they were severe and pervasive, they directly attacked her gender and her sexual orientation and/or they were intended to harass,” the suit said. “The regular, pervasive and continuous nature of the illegal and intentional conduct was done with full knowledge, consent and participating of supervising employees, including and not limited to Defendant Chief Amato."
When DesMarais reported her boss to agency directors at the Monmouth County SPCA, the lawsuit alleged they retaliated against her for speaking up. “The Plaintiff was no longer given work," according to the suit, "and was constructively terminated from her employment."