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Two Former Police Officers Sue Princeton Township Claiming Wrongful Discharge

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.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Confused

    The more lawsuits, the more money the township lawyer makes. I hear he is being reappointed in spite of this suit and even though his legal bills are much more than the borough lawyers ever charged.

  • Bob G

    Have Mayor Goerner and Deputy Mayor Liz Lempert and Police Commissioner Berniie Miller been asleep at the wheel in Princeton Township? Why has the Township Police Department been allowed to run rogue for years and nothing has been done about it? Is this why former administrator Pascale and former Chief Buchanan fled the Township employment over a weekend in March earlier this year? Why did Goerner sign Pascale’s retirement papers on a Sunday before Twp Committee met to discuss the topic? Who is running the show over there? Is Ed Schmierer calling the shots – is that why he sits on the dais next to the elected officials? Why didn’t Mr. Schmierer perform his duties as required by law to protect the Township? For this abdication of responsibility he bills Township taxpayers over $400,000 a year? Where is the integrity of elected official in the Township? So many un-answered questions swirl around years of secret Committee meetings, closed sessions with no disclosure to the public of County Prosecutor investigations of senior police personnel – all of these scandals were hidden under the rug during the campaigns for elected officials for new Princeton – so the Goerner/Lempert/Miller troika can hold onto control of the new town. To think that they wanted to hand over control of the PD to Lt. Morgan – a man accused of loafing and violating motor vehicle laws and wasting the policemen’s benevolence fund on drunken excursions to a gambling casino in Philadelphia to celebrate the clearly discredited former Chief Buchanan – this is an absolute outrage that should have Princeton citizens protesting in the streets! And God Bless Planet Princeton – the only press outlet in our community with the spine to follow this story – the lazy editors at the Packet and Topics would rather print the unedited pablum of elected officials all bent on pulling the wool over their sleepy half closed eyes instead of performing some honest investigative journalism – they get scooped time and again by this valiant little reporter digging her way through the corrupt cover-ups of the very people who will take office on January 1 to lead our unified community. Makes you want to do like current Mayor Chad Goerner and move out to Hopewell Township!

  • concerned taxpayer

    Wonder how much this bungling is going to cost the taxpayers. We already are paying for Buchanan and Pascale to sit home and do nothing this year. Last three township chiefs abruptly retired and were put on paid leave and received all their benefits.

  • MatthewBHersh

    Oy vey. Hopefully a unified PD under Dudeck will put an end to this long, long history of perceived and actual police impropriety. It’s so unnecessary. Princeton is a great place to live and work and probably a phenomenal place to work in law enforcement. I could never understand the departmental strife.

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