A Princeton Borough police officer who was reinstated by a judge earlier this year is suing the borough for allegedly violating the state’s whistleblower law.
Police Sgt. Kenneth Riley is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, interest, the value of any lost benefits, and legal fees for being wrongfully terminated for his actions related to a January 2008 motor vehicle stop of a suspected drunk driver by another officer.
The suspect in the motor vehicle stop refused to allow the officer to conduct a sobriety test until he was allowed to urinate, so the officer let him urinate in the bushes on the law of a private property owner. Two other backup officers at the scene, allegedly concerned that the actions violated borough policy, later told Riley what happened.
Riley reviewed the incident by accessing the police department’s video database of motor vehicle stops and reported it to his supervisor. The borough was already a defendant in a civil suit at the time for allegedly violating a motorist’s civil rights by forcing her to defecate behind a tree instead of being permitted to use a bathroom. That case was settled for $67,500.
An internal affairs investigation was launched against the officer in the drunken driving stop, but he was cleared of any wrong doing. An investigation was then launched against Riley, who was accused of wrongfully accessing the motor vehicle stop video database.
Riley was indicted by a grand jury in September 2008 and the borough stopped paying him in late September of 2008.
The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office contended that Riley showed the footage to other officers in order to hurt the other officer’s standing in the department. Prosecutors claimed Riley was untruthful during questioning about when and why he accessed the database.
But in November of 2009, a judge threw out the six-count indictment because Riley was authorized to access the database in his position as a sergeant.
The borough continued to pursue the case internally, racking up thousands of dollars more it would owe in back pay and legal fees. An administrative hearing officer upheld Riley’s suspension and he was terminated in Oct. of last year, but Riley’s lawyer at the time, Jeff Garrigan, then appealed in Superior Court.
In January, Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg dismissed all the charges against Riley, and ordered the borough to reinstate him and reimburse him for back pay and legal fees. The case cost the borough an estimated $440,000 total, including Riley’s fees and the cost for a lawyer and administrative judge.
The new civil suit recently filed in Superior Court by Freehold lawyer Steven Gabor alleges that Riley’s actions led to retaliation that resulted in him being terminated, and thus the case falls under the state’s whistleblower law, formally known as the Conscientious Employee Protection Act.
Riley, who is back on the force now, allegedly suffered emotional distress, humiliation, pain and suffering, economic loss, and harm to his career opportunities as a result of the borough’s actions, the suit contends.
A jury is being asked to decide the case, with the amount of any compensation to be determined during the trial.
In June, a jury awarded $525,000 to retired borough officer Gary Mitchell, who claimed the former police chief, Anthony Federico, retaliated against him for filing a racial discrimination complaint.