Planet Princeton

Council Slated to Approve Legal Settlement with Two Former Princeton Township Police Officers

The Princeton Council will review and likely approve a settlement for $200,000with two former Princeton Township police officers related to an investigation from 2014 regarding a gun trade by former police chief Mark Emann three years earlier.

The two officers, Michael Henderson and Arthur Villaruz, 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.

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 have repeatedly contended that they did not know Emann was receiving personal weapons free of charge when the Township exchanged the rifle for some new Township weapons. Their lawsuit 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.

All three officers were forced to retire as part of a settlement. More than five years later, proof never surfaced that Henderson or Villaruz possessed any weapons they did not lawfully obtain. The two men said some of their property was confiscated from the police department headquarters during the investigation and was never returned.

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.

The suit claims that the top brass in the police department at the time 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 sloppy 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, failing to return their personal property, and for continuing to threaten them with criminal charges.

The suit also alleges that Henderson and Villaruz were humiliated during and after the investigation in statements made by top law enforcement officials. 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. The lawyer for the two officers also claimed the township attorney at the time  threatened that he would have the prosecutor’s office institute new criminal charges if Henderson and Villaruz moved forward with the lawsuit.

Officials will discuss the case in closed session at 6 p.m. tonight, March 28, and the council is then slated to vote on an agreement in open session. Under the state’s Open Public Records Act, all legal settlements by public bodies are public record.

Mayor Liz Lempert, Council President Lance Liverman, and Councilman Bernie Miller served on the Princeton Township Committee in 2010 and 2011 when the investigation was conducted and the officers retired.

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.

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