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New Jersey State Police ignored background checks, including active warrants, to boost academy diversity

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Image Credit: Facebook/NJ State Police
Image Credit: Facebook/NJ State Police


A veteran NJ state trooper is filing a lawsuit against her department claiming that her superiors retaliated against her after she questioned them for forcing through minority recruits despite their questionable backgrounds.

Acting Sgt. Jaclyn Jiras was reassigned and denied a promotion for being “too good at her job” while working for five months as a background investigator. She flagged applicants with criminal backgrounds and troubled legal histories, for example, candidates found guilty of tax evasion, one with a suspended driver’s license, another with an active criminal warrant and one with ties to a local street gang.

According to the whistleblower lawsuit, filed on Feb 10th, out of the seven background investigations that Jiras conducted, 6 candidates were disqualified and one withdrew. Jiras was working as a background investigator “at a time the division was being scrutinized for its lack of black cadets,” according to nj.com.

Jiras was responsible for conducting background checks for the 152nd and 153rd academy classes. Both those classes–in 2012 and 2013 –were touted as the most diverse in state police history, the publication reports. Jiras’ superiors had reportedly been under pressure from the state AG’s office to “boost recruit class diversity on short notice.” The NAACP had threatened legal action in previous years.

“We’re not looking to change the process or lower the standards, but we live in a diverse state. That’s a fact. The makeup of the State Police needs to represent the state of New Jersey,” said Melvin Warren, the criminal justice chairman for the state NAACP.

The defendants named in the Jiras lawsuit are: the state of New Jersey, the State Police, Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes, and Capt. Mark Santiago.

Katherine Hartman, who represents Jiras, said her client was not against diversity efforts, but raised questions because the division was taking shortcuts. “The way to (increase diversity) is through mentorship programs, forming partnerships with local police departments — not through manipulating the process,” Hartman said.

A number of individuals, who were flagged by Jiras and her colleague, failed the background checks based on 24 “automatic disqualifiers” set forth by the state attorney general, the suit claims. Several of those disqualified applicants had been “forced into the process” anyway amid pressure from the Governor’s office — Jiras later learned.

Jiras and Sgt. Chris Griffin are also facing disciplinary charges for leaking details of recruits’ backgrounds. They allegedly gave confidential background information to a retired trooper who ran a private Facebook group with more than 1,100 members consisting of “current and retired members of the New Jersey State Police.” Griffin had allegedly leaked that “minority applicants, who had been automatically disqualified during their (background checks), were still sent to the academy ‘due to NAACP issues.”

Jiras and Griffin are appealing the disciplinary charges.

 

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