NYC Brass Faces Suit After Probing Its Probies

     MANHATTAN (CN) – After reports that rookie police officers assaulted women and trashed a bar led the brass to search private cellphones, their union has filed a federal complaint.
     Nearly a year has passed since members of the 113th Class of the Port Authority Police Department descended on a bar called Texas Arizona in Hoboken, N.J., for an Aug. 23, 2014, party to celebrate their graduation, according to the complaint.
     Headlines soon spread about the alleged criminal impropriety these probationary officers demonstrated, suggesting that the probies had sexually assaulted women, stolen alcohol and destroyed private property.
     The Port Authority Internal Affairs Unit opened an investigation into the allegations, but a union for the officers, the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association, claims in a complaint today that its members lacked proper representation in the dozens of interviews that ensued.
     “One by one, each individual probationary officer was removed from the first room, taken alone into a second room, and told to sit at a table surrounded by the interrogating defendants,” the 21-page complaint states.
     “In the majority of these interrogations, the Port Authority claimed to be interested in the probationary officers as witnesses for their investigation – not subjects of that investigation – and, as a result, the officers were not entitled” to union representation during the investigation.
     The PBA says that the newbies understood they would be fired if they didn’t cooperate.
     Even though those conducting the investigations didn’t have a warrant, they also asked to see the contents of the newly minted officers’ cellphones, the complaint states.
     The PBA says that the brass new such requests were unconstitutional because the U.S. Supreme Court had just issued precedent on the issue six months earlier in the case Riley v. California.
     Confronted with the lawsuit, Port Authority said it strongly disputes the union’s allegations “regarding the Inspector General’s investigation into the egregious behavior at this party involving newly sworn PAPD officers and some of their supervisors.”
     “The conduct displayed by these individuals was appalling, deeply troubling, and did not meet the high standards that all of our sworn police officers vow to uphold,” the agency said in an email. “The PAPD has a long tradition of honor, valor, and sacrifice, and we will vigorously defend the appropriateness of the Inspector General’s investigation into this matter.”
     Wednesday’s complaint recites the various outcomes that befell officers that the investigation targeted. It says one probie who repeatedly said that she “did not recall” the incident after being asked to open her GroupMe app on her phone was ultimately fired.
     Another newcomer allegedly faced reprisal for a “scatological, comedic photo” on her cellphone that she had sent around three years before joining the Port Authority.
     The union notes that another probationary officer, an Iraq veteran, was “clearly angry” when he was asked to produce his phone.
     “He was furious that, upon returning home to his country, he was being forced to turn over private property to law enforcement despite no suspicion he had committed any wrongdoing,” the complaint states.
     Port Authority allegedly suspended that man without pay for 30 days.
     The PBA says another probie was forced to take a screen-shot of content she had sent on her phone, while another was threatened with termination if she didn’t cooperate with authorities.
     Yet another probation officer, who told transportation authorities that he had bought a new phone and didn’t have what they were looking for, was ordered to call his cellphone provider to have them send those messages to investigators, according to the complaint.
     All interrogated officers were forced to stand at attention during their investigations, the lawsuit states.
     The Port Authority announced in November 2014 that four probies were fired and three were suspended for 30 days without pay stemming from the investigation.
     “Out of concern for retaliation,” the PBA’s lawsuit does not name the employees in question.
     The unnamed plaintiffs seek unspecified damages for unreasonable search and seizure, and to bar the agency from conducting future searches.
     They are represented by Richard Emery with Emery Celli Brinkerhoff & Abady LLP.

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