NJ troopers in sex case reach accord

The News Leader

April 4, 2010 2:54:08 PM PDT
More than two years after being pulled off the state police force following a night of drinking and group sex that a woman claimed was gang rape, seven New Jersey state troopers are being allowed to return to work under terms of a settlement that keeps their names secret. The men, who were not criminally charged, will filter back to the active-duty ranks between mid-April and July after serving unpaid suspensions of six to nine months. The troopers were suspended with pay after the December 2007 encounter was reported to police, and had their paychecks revoked in October by Col. Rick Fuentes, the head of the state police, who said they discredited the agency and moved to fire them.

"We think it was a good resolution to a very difficult situation," Attorney General Paula Dow, who oversees the state police, told The Associated Press in her only public comment on the settlement. "Separate offices reviewed it very carefully and found that they would not proceed with criminal sanctions. Every one of the individuals involved had disciplinary actions imposed on them, and those actions will be a permanent part of those individuals' records and will follow them the rest of their careers as state troopers."

The off-duty troopers met their accuser, a 25-year-old Rider University student, at a college night promotion at Kat Man Du, a waterfront club in Trenton offering free admission to female college students and steeply discounted drinks. The woman and a girlfriend later went to one of the trooper's homes, where sex between her and six of the men occurred.

The woman went to a hospital the next morning, claiming she had been raped. The men insisted the sex was consensual.

Lawyers for the two sides argued over whether the woman was plied with liquor and how capable she was of resisting.

The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office closed the case without filing charges after investigating for seven months. However, the state continued to pursue disciplinary charges against the troopers, and they remained out of work while the fight for their jobs and privacy dragged on.

The state argued for an open disciplinary hearing, but the troopers' lawyers fought in court to seal any administrative actions.

Their lawyers also argued that the state had no right into their bedrooms to peek at off-duty, consensual conduct.

The Star-Ledger newspaper in an editorial this week said the troopers should have been fired for disgracing the uniform.

"At best, this was a trooper orgy, each officer taking his turn with a coed of debatable impairment," the editorial stated.

Charles Sciarra, a lawyer for one of the troopers, said the suspensions should have ended when the criminal case was dropped.

"Never has an allegation with so many variations and so many inconsistencies been given so much time and attention," he said.

But Nat Dershowitz, a lawyer for the woman, said his client feels like she's been victimized by the troopers and by the justice system.

"I have been put through hell and the seven molesting state troopers only got a slap on the wrist," the woman, who has not been identified, said in a statement issued through Dershowitz.

"All I was looking for was to prevent these officers from being able to do this to others. Instead the officers now have a license to go back to work."

Dershowitz called the settlement "politically motivated" and said the decision to end the case was made "on high."

"It was causing them some level of embarrassment," he said.

Gov. Chris Christie, who is Dow's boss, said he wasn't involved.

"I learned enough in my seven years in law enforcement to know that when politicians get themselves too involved in law enforcement that it usually isn't good," said Christie, a former federal prosecutor. "If (Dow and Fuentes) believe this is the right thing to do, until proven otherwise, I'm going to rely on their judgment out of respect for both of them."