Day: August 4, 2023

Piscataway Fire Company and Fire District Quietly Settle Sexual Harassment and Wrongful Termination Lawsuit for $325,000.

August 4, 2023

By: John Paff, Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party’s Open Government Advocacy Project

PISCATAWAY, NJ — On May 23, 2023, Piscataway Township Fire District No. 3 (Middlesex County, NJ) and Arbor Hose Company No. 1, Inc. agreed to pay $325,000 to settle a female firefighter’s sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit.

In her lawsuit, Kira Castellon, who began her employment on May 5, 2015, said that she was the first woman ever employed by the fire company as a firefighter and that it was generally known to her coworkers that she was a lesbian.

After the fire chief promoted her to the position of Safety Officer, Castellon claimed that a newly hired employee, Cesar Valenzuela-Sihuas (“Valenzuela”), subjected her to a “campaign of sexual harassment.” According to Castellon, this included nearly daily instances of Valenzuela’s unwanted advances, which included groping, kissing, and pelvic thrustings, licking her face as a greeting, unwarranted hugs, and breast groping. She claimed that her efforts to physically push Valenzuela away were met with bystanders’ laughter.

Valenzuela’s alleged behavior was witnessed by Lt. Paul Gonclavez (also the President of the fire association), Fire Commissioner Malcolm Brown, and Deputy Chief Oliver Uy, according to the lawsuit. Castellon claimed that at least ten times Valenzuela told her to “get on your knees and I’ll make you straight again,” in the presence of Commissioner Brown, Lt. Gonclavez, and Deputy Chief Uy.

Castellon suffered workplace injury that caused her to return to work on crutches. Upon her return, she alleged that she had to “struggle to stay upright as [Valenzuela] groped her and thrust his pelvis into her rear-end.” Castellon claimed that there were hundreds of these incidents and that they occurred during regular firehouse activities and special events, such as flea markets hosted by the firehouse.

Castellon said that her multiple attempts to report the harassment were met with resistance from Chief Joshua Scolnick and Captain Adam Scolnick, both of whom failed to properly address the situation. The Chief’s response, according to Castellon, was dismissive, indicating that “We don’t do that here,” and refraining from providing any official documentation of the complaint. She also claimed that Piscataway Fire District No. 3 failed to provide any training to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

On October 30, 2019, Castellon was fired for using Arbor Hose’s tax-exempt identification number in connection with alleged personal purchases at a local Sam’s Club, according to the complaint. Castellon claimed that the purchases were made for firehouse use and that she presented “exhaustive detail and documentation” regarding the purchases.

Her firing followed an October 1, 2019 meeting at which senior members of Arbor Hose, including Chief Scolnick, told her “that they were considering pressing charges to put [her] in jail,” according to the lawsuit. At the end of the meeting, Castellon said that she was told that she was being suspended.

Castellon claimed that her firing was in retaliation for complaining about the sexual harassment.

The case is captioned Kira Castellon v. Arbor Hose Company No. 1, Inc., et al, Docket No. MID-L-7840-20 and Castellon’s attorney was Paul Castronovo of Morristown. The lawsuit and both settlement agreements are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, under which Castellon agreed that the settlement and its terms and amounts be kept confidential. She specifically agreed to not post the settlement “on any form of social media, including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, MySpace, Snapchat, LinkedIn, YouTube, Reddit, Tumblr, and/or TikTok.” Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public’s right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Castellon’s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Piscataway Fire District No. 3, Arbor Hose Company or any of their official or employees. All that is known for sure is that the Fire District, Arbor Hose or their insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Castellon $325,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps their decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial–it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Hamilton Man Charged With First-Degree Murder, Felony Murder, Burglary And Tampering With Evidence In West Windsor

August 4, 2023

WEST WINDSOR, NJ (MERCER)–Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo J. Onofri and West Windsor Police Chief Robert Garofalo announced today that an investigation conducted by the Mercer County Homicide Task Force and the West Windsor Police Department has resulted in the arrest of a Hamilton Township man for the death of Elaine Murray.        

Denzel Whitmore, 24, of Hamilton, NJ, is charged with one count of first-degree murder, one count of first-degree felony murder, one count of second-degree burglary and one count of fourth-degree tampering with evidence.  He was taken into custody without incident Thursday afternoon in Hamilton Township.  The prosecutor’s office will file a motion to detain Whitmore pending trial.        

On Wednesday evening, August 2, 2023, just after 8 p.m., West Windsor police responded to a residence on Galston Drive after neighbors went to conduct a well-being check on a female neighbor who lives alone and noticed evidence of a break-in.  Officers were able to make entry into the residence and located Elaine Murray, 71, lying on the floor of a second-floor bedroom deceased.  She appeared to have visible signs of injuries to her face and she was bleeding from the back of her head.        

Prosecutor Onofri and Chief Garofalo would like to extend their thanks to the New Jersey State Police, the Hamilton Police Division and the Harford County Sheriff’s Office (Maryland) for their assistance in the investigation. The investigation is ongoing.  Anyone with information is asked to contact MCHTF Detective Jacob Schor at (609) 989-6406 or Sgt. Roberto Reyes at (609) 256-0997.  Information can also be emailed to        

Despite having been charged, every defendant is presumed innocent until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.    

Denzel Whitmore, 24, of Hamilton, NJ, is charged with one count of first-degree murder, one count of first-degree felony murder, one count of second-degree burglary and one count of fourth-degree tampering with evidence.