Charles Cusack developed an unnatural interest in a female student at Ocean City High School while he patrolled its halls as a security guard. The retired Ocean City police officer then helped the 17-year-old girl land a plum summer job with the city’s beach-fee office, where he’d be supervising her. And then Cusack, 49 at the time, used his position of authority to sway the girl into a sexual relationship, according to a newly filed lawsuit.
These accusations are part of a civil complaint filed by the alleged victim March 9 in state Superior Court in Cape May Court House. The allegations in the lawsuit have not been addressed in a courtroom.
The civil complaint names Cusack and the City of Ocean City as defendants.
Local taxpayers could be on the hook for any legal fees incurred by the city for defending itself in the lawsuit and for any potential pre-trial settlement or damages awarded by a jury. The city is not providing legal representation to Cusack.
Cusack, 51, also faces separate criminal charges alleging he had an ongoing sexual relationship with the underage female beach-fee collector during the summer of 2012.
The civil complaint alleges Cusack first met the girl in the halls of Ocean City High School, when she was a junior in spring 2012. Cusack had retired from the local force a year earlier after 25 years of service. He worked the final two years of his career as a “school resource officer” at the high school, and then was hired by the school district to work as a “supervisory aide” from January to June 2012.
At the school, Cusack “engaged in increasingly inappropriate behavior directed toward (the girl),” the lawsuit alleges. “He, a retiree with a family, would flirt with (her) and pay her compliments on her appearance and body. Such inappropriate behavior occurred at the High School and while Cusack held a position of authority over (the girl).”
Cusack then began attending the girl’s softball games. She was “flattered but confused by the attention she was receiving from Mr. Cusack,” the complaint states.
In June 2012, Cusack gave the girl his cell-phone number and invited her to call and text him. He flirted with her via text and through phone games such as “Words with Friends,” according to the lawsuit.
Their relationship continued into the summer, during which Cusack served as the city’s superintendent of Beach Fee Operations, overseeing 120 to 150 seasonal employees — mostly high-school and college students — in the local beach-tag program.
In July 2012, Cusack gave the girl a highly sought-after job as a beach-tag inspector, a move that puzzled other employees in the office.
“At the time, Cusack’s hiring of (the girl) was questioned by other staff of Beach Fee Operations,” according to the lawsuit. She was “hired mid-season, which was unheard of. Also, while (she) was qualified for the position, she was not the most outstanding applicant.”
Cusack had ulterior motives in hiring the girl, the lawsuit alleges.
“Shortly after being hired, (she) learned that she wasn’t merely lucky. Charles Cusack expected payment in return for giving her a job—payment in the form of (her) virginity,” the complaint alleges.
Once she started work, the flirtatious relationship between Cusack and the girl moved quickly toward a sexual one, according to the civil complaint.
“Soon thereafter, Charles Cusack’s true intentions manifested,” the lawsuit contends. “He, a 49-year-old man, began having sex with (the girl), his teenaged subordinate. He acted out his various fantasies with the sexually inexperienced minor. He would take nude photos of her,” as well perform various sex acts with her.
“He forced her to engage in ‘rough’ sex with him, choking her throat (during intercourse),” the lawsuit alleges.
Cusack had sex with the girl both in his city office and at his home in Egg Harbor Township on various occasions over the next three weeks, according to the civil and criminal complaints.
The relationship ended on Aug. 4, 2012, when another beach-fee employee, identified in the civil complaint only as “D.E.,” walked into Cusack’s office and saw the superintendent having sex with the girl, the lawsuit states. The employee reported the incident to his direct supervisor, who in turn contacted Ocean City police.
Cusack was arrested and charged with one count of second-degree sexual assault. He later pleaded not guilty. In February 2015, a Cape May County grand jury handed up a superseding indictment adding a second-degree charge of official misconduct and a second-degree count of endangering the welfare of a child against Cusack. Earlier this month, he also pleaded not guilty to those charges, and is awaiting trial.
It was not clear Friday whether Cusack has retained a defense attorney in the lawsuit; his attorney in the criminal case is Louis M. Barbone of Atlantic City.
Barbone did not immediately respond to a message left at his office Friday afternoon.
Ocean City Solicitor Dottie McCrosson said she couldn’t discuss the lawsuit, citing the city’s policy of not commenting on pending litigation.
Attorney Michael L. Testa of Vineland, who filed the complaint on the alleged victim’s behalf, declined to make her available for an interview, and said he had no comment beyond the allegations made in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, plus attorney’s fees on behalf of the alleged victim, who is now 19.
The girl was the victim of sexual abuse, gender discrimination and sexual harassment by Cusack, who was her direct supervisor, according to the lawsuit.
In turn, “the conduct of Ocean City, by way of its acquiescence in the conduct of Charles Cusack and its failure to prevent such sexual abuse elevates it to the status of passive sexual abuser,” the lawsuit alleges.
The girl suffered “temporary and permanent personal injuries, economic loss, shame, ridicule, severe emotional damages, psychological damages, loss of self-worth and sexual dysfunction” as a result of Cusack’s conduct, and the city’s inability to prevent it, according to the civil complaint.
In New Jersey, the age of consent is 16. But Cusack was charged criminally under a provision in state statute that makes it illegal for a person to have sex with someone over whom he or she has supervisory authority when an alleged victim is 16 or 17 years old.
Cusack has three daughters and had been separated from his wife at the time of his arrest. He was in his second season as director of the city’s beach-tag program when he was arrested. He has been free since posting $150,000 bond shortly after his arrest.
Cusack is due back in criminal court on May 5, when Barbone will argue a motion to have the charges in the superseding indictment dismissed.
(Editor’s Note: OCNJ Daily has chosen not to name the plaintiff in this civil lawsuit — even though she willfully entered her name into the public record by filing the complaint. At this point in our coverage of the criminal and civil proceedings, we do not believe there is a significant public need to know her identity. We do believe in protecting the privacy of alleged victims of sexual assault.)