NJ troopers lose pay, remain suspended

October 19, 2009 6:35:10 PM PDT
Seven New Jersey state troopers who have been on suspension with pay for nearly two years after they were accused of sexual assault will remain suspended but no longer receive paychecks, although no criminal charges were ever filed. David Wald, a spokesman for Attorney General Anne Milgram, whose office oversees the State Police, said the troopers' pay was suspended Saturday as part of an internal disciplinary matter. He had no further comment.

But letters State Police Col. Rick Fuentes sent the troopers in an internal investigation said the troopers discredited the agency because they "exercised poor judgment and displayed conduct unbecoming a sworn member of the Division, specifically being one of seven enlisted members who engaged in sexual acts with a female college student who had ingested intoxicants."

A few of the troopers also violated gift bans by flashing their badges to bouncers at a club, who let them in and waived an $8 cover charge, according to the letters that were part of court filings submitted by the troopers Saturday seeking to force the state to continue to pay them and return them to work.

The troopers had been suspended with pay since December 2007, when a 25-year-old Rider University student reported that she had been raped in the Ewing Township home of a trooper after a night out at a Trenton nightclub.

After a seven-month investigation, the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office opted not to present the case to a grand jury but did not offer an explanation. Neither the accuser nor the troopers have ever been publicly named.

When asked Monday about the suspensions without pay, Nat Dershowitz, an attorney for the accuser, said, "It's about time."

But David Jones, president of State Troopers Fraternal Association, said the troopers plan to fight the suspensions.

"These guys have been given no due process," he said. "We are going to exhaust all remedies to make sure these innocent men have their day in court."

On Saturday, the troopers filed a motion asking a federal judge for a preliminary order to stop the state from withholding their paychecks. The motion asked the judge to allow the troopers to return to work and accused the State Police of violating their right to privacy.

After the prosecutor's investigation, the State Police probe dragged on as the troopers initially refused to be questioned about their sex lives. They went to court to challenge the line of questioning, but a federal judge ruled in favor of the State Police and said the agency could question the troopers about what happened. The accuser was also interviewed, her attorney said.

State police can conduct internal investigations in cases where there are no criminal charges, and troopers are required to sign a document that subjects them to possible termination if they decline to answer any questions.

The Attorney General's Office has said the investigation was necessary to determine if any of the troopers violated departmental regulations governing off-duty conduct.

Charles Sciarra, who represented the troopers, said they should have been back at work the minute the prosecutor decided not to file charges.

"This file should have been closed months ago, if not earlier, and these guys should have been permitted to continue their careers," he said.

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