Black businesswoman sues, says Asbury Park cops, landlord conspired against her

The Asbury Park Municipal & Police Complex
  • Danielle Joseph opened a marketing and branding business on Cookman Avenue in in Asbury Park in 2020.
  • In a lawsuit, she says she was harassed in that location by Asbury Park police because she is Black.
  • The city has spent about $1.9 million on litigation and settlements in lawsuits in which Asbury Park police were accused of racial bias.

ASBURY PARK – The Asbury Park Police Department conspired with a commercial landlord to hurt a Black-owned business on Cookman Avenue, according to a lawsuit filed against the city.

Danielle Joseph, who is Black, claims her business suffered greatly due to the unfair enforcement based on race by the City of Asbury Park and Asbury Park Police Department, according to the lawsuit.

Joseph filed her racial discrimination lawsuit against the city, her former landlord and named two Asbury Park police officers. She is represented by attorney Desha Jackson of Desha Jackson Law Group in Freehold.

Joseph was eventually forced out of the property, saying she was evicted because she is Black. She has already reached a settlement with the landlord, property manager and the landlord’s companies.

The complaint is the latest in a series of discrimination lawsuits against the police department under Police Chief David Kelso. Over the last 10 years, five suits against the city have been settled in which race discrimination claims, among others, were asserted, costing the city about $1.9 million total in defense and settlement costs, according to city officials.

Asbury Park Police Chief David Kelso, seen here in 2017.

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Joseph operated DEJ Creative Consulting on Cookman Avenue, where she provided marketing and branding services to clients big and small in a variety of fields, according to the lawsuit.

“Ms. Joseph unfortunately had to endure racial harassment at the hands of Captain (David) DeSane, other officers and the city of Asbury Park at the expense of her business. They chose to selectively enforce the law against her business only while she was at 727 Cookman Ave.,” her lawyer Jackson said.

City Manager Donna Viero told the Press that “the city is unable to comment on pending litigation. Once this matter has been decided, it would then be appropriate for city officials to comment. At this time these are allegations that will need to be vetted in a court of law.”

A full copy of the lawsuit can be seen at the bottom of this story.

A visit from the cops

Joseph first leased the space from Elizabeth Gorcey, the landlord, in the fall of 2020.

According to the complaint, that is when Joseph became “aware that there were severe defects” that were not represented in her lease agreement. She made the fixes herself in order to operate and opened her space on Nov. 11, 2020. However, the grand opening party was soon upset.

Joseph had never met the property manager, Christopher Seigel, before the day of the grand opening, according to the lawsuit. One of her clients, a chef, was frying wontons which led to smoke and the fire detectors going off.

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While airing out the property, she heard a loud noise, which turned out to be Seigel banging on the windows, the lawsuit said. Seigel and Joseph’s brother then got into an argument before the landlord called Joseph and threatened her with eviction, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says several witnesses heard Seigel say “You people” in “a loud, demeaning matter” which offended the attendants, who believed it was said to them because they were African American, according to the lawsuit.

There were no violations of the law at the opening, according to the suit.

In the following days, Joseph was visited by Asbury Park police, who created excuses to visit that were “not grounded in the facts” and consistently left without reporting any violations of the law, according to the lawsuit.

“Captain DeSane and the chief of police strategically contacted the owner to report on Ms. Joseph as if she were doing something illegal when she was not. For these people, Ms. Joseph being an African American on the historical Cookman Avenue block was sufficient to interfere with her lease agreement,” Jackson said.

On Nov. 21, 2020, Desane went to the Cookman business after 8 p.m. with four other officers, the suit said. According to the lawsuit, the officers made race-based comments and insulting accusations without reasonable suspicion, probable cause or any justification.

Desane accused the business of being a social club and that he knew it was not a consulting firm, the suit claims. He also questioned if Joseph had adequate credentials to have a license to consult or run a business, according to the lawsuit.

Desane allegedly stated that there were a lot of “ins and outs” by guys wearing hoodies and the lawsuit claims he was talking about the Black people.

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The lawsuit claims Desane stated that “he let the grand opening slide” and that he spoke with Joseph’s landlord before telling Joseph that she would receive a letter from her landlord advising her that she could only do business between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

When Joseph continued to ask Desane for his lawful reason for being at her business, he did not provide an answer, according to the lawsuit.

‘The only African American on the block’

The lawsuit states that the landlord worked in concert with the Asbury Park Police Department against Joseph based on race.

Jackson said that the Police Department used “what we believe to be false accusations to harass” Joseph, such as stating they received noise complaints, despite the surrounding area including bars with loud music and a rock and roll studio, and stating she wasn’t complying with the lease or the law.

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“Asbury Park Police and the city of Asbury Park chose to target the only African American on the block,” Jackson said. “We contend that the Asbury Park Police Department has no authority to enforce a commercial lease, but they certainly tortuously interfered in our case. This lawsuit is a protest against this discriminatory conduct and we hope this doesn’t continue to happen to other African Americans who have dreams and want to help the people as Ms. Joseph did.”

In June 2021, the Asbury Park city manager called Joseph notifying her that she could not hold an event that she had been planning because it made use of the space outside her property. The lawsuit says this was despite other tenants having done the same thing.

Furthermore, the lawsuit claims that white business owners and tenants were given preferential treatment to secure advertising via permits that Joseph was never notified about.

“The city manager refused to have her garbage picked up like the Caucasian businesses, failed to provide her with the same opportunities as the other businesses were given and failed to give her fair advantage to promote her business on a sign that the city planted on each block in Downtown Asbury,” Jackson said. “This type of signage was offered by the city to bring more business to Asbury Park. We contend all of this was due to her being African American and the African American patrons that came to her place of business.”

She added that the police “were not ‘protecting and serving,’ they were harassing and targeting her.”

Jackson also represents Lt. Kamil Warraich, the highest ranking officer of color in the Asbury Park Police Department and president of the Fraternal Order of Police #221.

Warraich filed an ongoing lawsuit against the city in 2020 that described years of mistreatment and a rigged internal affairs system within the Asbury Park Police Department and criticized the leadership of the police department earlier this year after someone put up a sign perceived as mocking Black Asbury Park police officers. It took nearly two months for police leadership to take the sign down.

In late October, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office installed an on-site monitor at the department, following the recent increase in Asbury Park Police officer’s filing internal affairs complaints against each other.

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Jackson said “both of these complaints have a few aspects in common. Racism, Captain David DeSane, the Asbury Park Police Department and the City of Asbury administration.”

Charles Daye is the metro reporter for Asbury Park and Neptune, with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. Contact him: @CharlesDayeAPP

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