Two former police officers have filed a lawsuit claiming Princeton Township wrongfully discharged them, slandered them, violated the terms of their settlement contracts, and retaliated against them for attempting to expose the misconduct of other officers.
Michael Henderson and Arthur Villaruz, two longtime veterans of the Princeton Township Police Department, are the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed earlier this month against Princeton Township, the Princeton Township Police Department, and some Township employees. The two former officers, who are represented by Chatham-based lawyer Gina Mendola Longarzo, are seeking unspecified damages to be determined at a trial by jury.
The case dates back to the 2010 gun trade investigation involving former police chief Mark Emann. In October of 2010, Henderson and Villaruz were placed on leave with Emann while officials investigated whether there had been a theft of Township property during a gun trade the trio conducted three years earlier.
Emann eventually was charged with theft by deception for receiving a free rifle and revolver for his personal use from a New Jersey gun dealer during a Township trade of an antique M-16 rifle that had been in police custody.
Henderson and Villaruz were never charged with anything and contend that they did not know Emann was receiving personal weapons free of charge when the Township exchanged the rifle for some new Township weapons. The suit claims that unbeknownst to Henderson and Villaruz, Emann separately called the gun dealer to make arrangements for the free guns before the trade was made. The suit claims the gun dealer can back up the claim.
All three officers were forced to retire as part of a settlement. Two years later, no proof has surfaced that Henderson or Villaruz possessed any weapons they did not lawfully obtain, and the two men say they still do not have all their property back.
The suit claims that, in violation of the New Jersey Civil Rights Act and the Conscientious Employment Protection Act, Henderson and Villaruz became the targets of Emann and former Police Chief Robert Buchanan and were the subjects of a bogus investigation because they refused to cover Emann’s tracks in the gun trade case and because Henderson previously had complained about the performance of Emann and another favored officer.
Shortly before he was put on leave, Henderson allegedly told Buchanan, then the department’s internal affairs officer, that he had concerns about how Emann was running the department, according to the suit. Allegedly he also raised concerns about officer Chris Morgan, who is now acting chief. According to the suit, Henderson complained that Morgan was allegedly sometimes failing to show up for work when he was scheduled for his administrative desk job. The suit also claims that Morgan was allegedly pulled over in his personal vehicle for speeding in the Township and was issued verbal warnings by Township police officers. Township officials have claimed that the accusations against Morgan are unfounded.
The suit claims Emann, Buchanan, and Morgan conspired to retaliate against Henderson and Villaruz and that the police and prosecutor’s office improperly investigated Emann and Buchanan’s false claims that Henderson and Villaruz stole the M-16 from the police department’s armory. The suit also claims the Township conducted a grossly negligent, unfair, and slipshod investigation into the alleged wrongdoing despite obvious and readily accessible proof to the contrary.
According to the suit, Henderson and Villaruz were coerced into retiring under false and misleading circumstances. The pair agreed to a settlement with the understanding that they would receive their full pensions, that all disciplinary charges would be dismissed, that no criminal charges or additional charges would be brought against them, that personal property which had been seized would be returned to them, and that they would receive pay-outs for their accumulated vacation and other time due.
The Township allegedly breached the agreement with the officers by failing to pay Henderson about $40,000 and Villaruz about $30,000 in accumulated time, for failing to return their personal property, and for continuing to threaten them with criminal charges.
The suit also alleges that Buchanan, who took over as chief after Emann retired, harassed and slandered Henderson and Villaruz. Buchanan, who abruptly announced his retirement in March and was put on paid leave until the end of 2012, allegedly tried to humiliate Henderson during the investigation, and made statements about Henderson and Villaruz even after the case was closed and the two were cleared. The suit also alleges that Buchanan confiscated mail and packages sent to Henderson and Villaruz after the case was closed. According to the suit, Emann received better treatment even though he was charged, and Emann was able to pick up all his items from his office shortly after his suspension.
According to the suit, in spite of repeated attempts to get all the property back that was seized without warrants, the Township refused to return it all or provide an inventory. Henderson and Villaruz received some of their property back, but not all of it. Longarzo claims Township lawyer Ed Schmierer also threatened that he would have the prosecutor’s office institute new criminal charges if Henderson and Villaruz moved forward with the lawsuit.