The Bayonne Police Athletic League (PAL) and the Bayonne PAL Day Care Center may soon have to close its doors, according to Executive Director KT Torello. At the December meeting of the Bayonne City Council, Torello asked the council and city for support, noting that two lawsuits may force the Bayonne PAL to close due to legal fees.
The local PAL has been instrumental in Bayonne since its establishment in 1947, offering a day care and multiple recreation athletic programs for children. Next year will be its 75th anniversary, that is, if it can survive until then. The PAL currently operates out of its home in William Shemin Midtown Community School at 550 Avenue A.
“I don’t know if we are going to make it any longer,” Torello said. “Like so many other non-profit organizations, we’ve been hit with lawsuits. Lawsuits that date back to 1968.”
The first lawsuit filed in March of this year alleges that then-coach John Hunter allegedly sexually assaulted a boy who was between ages 10 and 11 at the time, only identified in the suit as J.B. Hunter allegedly repeatedly sexually assaulted J.B. while he was a member of the Bayonne PAL’s basketball league from 1968 to 1969.
The second suit, filed in September of this year, alleges a similar sexual assault in 1975 against another boy, between the ages of 10 or 11 at the time, only identified as H.B. The suit alleges Hunter sexually assaulted H.B. while he was a member of the PAL’s basketball league, Bayonne’s Little League baseball league, and North Jersey Pop Warner football league as a member of the Assumption CWV Tigers.
Both suits allege that Hunter sexually assaulted other minors at the time and that Hunter was eventually arrested and convicted of child molestation in 1977.
Court costs adding up
While the lawsuits focus on alleged sexual assaults from the 60s and 70s, the allegations are having consequences in 2021. The costs of the two lawsuits are adding up at the PAL, leading to Torello asking the council for monetary support to keep the programs alive.
“We are now close to $100,000 in attorney fees,” Torello said. “PAL is asking the city if it can help with these costs, as at the time the PAL was solely operated by the city of Bayonne. We cannot sustain this amount of money to give out. It’s impossible for us to operate.”
Torello said he has spoken to Mayor James Davis numerous times about the issue, most recently on Nov. 12. However, with no solution in sight, he made his plea public to the council.
“It’s causing a big strain on our budget,” Torello said.
Torello said that PAL has been asking for and has not yet received from the city what insurance was in effect during those years.
“It certainly was not the daycare center, which did not come into existence until 1970,” Torello said. “I don’t think that the son should pay for the father’s sins. Because at the rate we are going, we’re going to have to close our doors.”
Torello said that the 50 basketball teams and more than 200 daycare children would be affected if the PAL had to close. In addition, the PAL runs a bustling homework program that Torello said is overflowing with students. Meanwhile, the legal fees mean he can’t pay the teachers.
“There is no end in sight,” Torello said. “I’d like to make it to the 75th anniversary, but at this rate, these children will be put out in the street. We don’t have the resources for this… I still have to feed these children. I have to pay employees health insurance. The list goes on and on.”
City avoiding legal liability
Law Director Jay Coffey gave the legal response to Torello’s questions at the meeting.
“The city of Bayonne was self-insured up through the early 90s,” Coffey said.
In addition to being self-insured, Coffey said that the city maintains the position that it did not operate the PAL during the time of the sexual assaults alleged in the suits, rather that the PAL was operated a separate entity. In response, Torello disagreed and stated that he personally remembered that it was police officers who operated the PAL during that time.
“PAL and the city of Bayonne have a long relationship dating back to 1947,” Torello said. “We know PAL, at that time, was solely operated by the city of Bayonne. All employees were police officers who were paid by the city. These officers maintained, opened, closed and operated the PAL until the late 1980s.”
Coffey disagreed and reiterated the city did not operate the PAL at the time. While the council toyed with a simple resolution supporting the PAL and its program, not legal support in the lawsuits, Coffey still cautioned against it lest the city be dragged into the suits.
The council then backed off the idea of a resolution but vocally reiterated its support for the PAL and Torello. City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski said that the PAL was essential to the city, but was not in favor of legally supporting the organization.
“You talked about PAL being a part of our past,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “It is, but it’s also part of our future. It has to be a part of our future, which is our children. It’s really not an option to lose you. You provide services that are direly needed in this town for the families that are the most needy.”
Council supportive, but weary of liability
The rest of the council was also supportive of PAL yet not interested in doing so in a legal format. First Ward City Councilman Neil Carroll said that “PAL is an amazing part of the community,” but that “the answer was given” with Coffey’s response to Torello’s pleas.
Third Ward City Councilman Gary La Pelusa offered his verbal support but stopped short of going any further per the legal advice from Coffey: “I support the PAL and its programs… This is the first time I’m hearing about lawsuits from the 60s or any of this. As much as want to say I support you, and I support you, I don’t know with what Jay is saying about the liability issue.”
At-Large City Councilman Juan Perez said: “Jay enlightened us on the issues with this. We have to be very careful, we can’t rush into this or jump to conclusions.” La Pelusa added that with more time, he could research the topic better.
Additionally, La Pelusa asked if there was any other way for the PAL to raise the money. In response, Torello pleaded for help again and added that the clock was ticking.
“We can’t afford to have anything tabled or to drag this out,” Torello said. “There has to be some solution to this… We are going to court for the final time in January. It was dismissed the first time without prejudice, but they refiled it. We’re running a tight line, especially if they find in favor of the defendant.”
Despite Torello’s pleas, the council did not act. Pending monetary intervention, he said the Bayonne PAL and its Day Care Center are poised to close regardless of the court’s decision on the first lawsuit on Jan. 7, 2022.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.