Friday, June 5, 2015

Bergen County quietly pays $350,000 to settle police sergeant's whistle blower suit

On April 27, 2015, the County of Bergen agreed to pay $350,000 to a County Police sergeant who sued Police Department officials for allegedly retaliating against for exposing alleged illegal activity in the department.  $140,000 of the settlement amount went to the sergeant and $210,000 was to compensate his lawyer.

In his suit, Robert Carney, who previously headed the Police Department's Internal Affairs Unit, said that Police Chief Brian Higgins and Captain Uwe Malakas retaliated against him for complaining about a culture of cronyism that permitted officers to allegedly tamper with and steal evidence, illegally discharge firearms, falsify official reports and abuse sick time policies without fear of being disciplined.

He claimed that he was threatened when someone anonymously taped two live rounds of ammunition to his locker.  Other acts of alleged retaliation include being berated and cursed at, removal of commendation letters from his personnel file, demotion to patrol status and the taking away of his assigned patrol vehicle.

The case is captioned Carney v. Bergen County Police Department, et al, Docket No. BER-L-2753-12 and Carney's attorney was William A. Feldman of Fairfield.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Carney's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $350,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bergen or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bergen or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Carney $350,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.