As reported in the Trenton Times on January 25, 2011, a judge has ordered Princeton Borough to reinstate a police officer who was suspended without pay in 2008 and to reimburse the officer for back pay and legal fees totaling an estimated $400,000.
Last week, Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg dismissed all charges against Sergeant Kenneth Riley related to allegations that he wrongfully accessed a police department video database of motor vehicle stops in January of 2008. Feinberg issued an order requiring the borough to reinstate Riley effective this week.
Riley allegedly reviewed a video of a police stop that involved a drive suspected of drunken driving. A sergeant and three patrolmen were involved in the stop, and two of the patrol officers were under Riley’s supervision. During the stop, the sergeant allowed the driver to urinate in bushes on private property. Riley learned about the incident and believed the sergeant had violated policy.
A borough officer for 17 years and sergeant since 2006, Riley was suspended with pay in March 2008 along with two other officers as part of an internal affairs investigation related to the access of the video database. He 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 sergeant’s standing in the department. Prosecutors claimed he 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. Despite this finding, 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, which Riley then appealed in Superior Court.
Riley, who earned a salary of $103,706 annually, is owed about 28 months of pay, or more than $241,000, plus money he spent on health insurance and legal fees, for a total estimated to be about $400,000. Including the borough’s fees for its own lawyer, staff, and an administrative hearing officer, the case could cost borough taxpayers about $500,000.
Councilman Roger Martindell, a vocal critic of the borough’s handling of disciplinary matters, called the pursuit of disciplinary action against Riley “a colossal waste for borough taxpayers.” “It appears that the borough has spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in pursuit of disciplinary action against Sgt. Riley without a firm foundation for doing so,” he said.
Borough Council President Kevin Wilkes, who starting serving as a police commissioner in 2010 after the council revived its police commission, said the borough will abide by the judge’s order. The governing body has not decided whether to appeal the case, and will discuss the matter in closed session at the next council meeting.
The Borough banked Riley’s salary in the event that he would return, so the borough does not need to find the additional money for that cost, Wilkes said. Riley was also counted as one of the borough officers until recently, and one officer who is out on disability is moving to dispatch, so the Borough will not exceed its limit of officers with Riley’s return.