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Sergeant's suit charges Bergen County police with misconduct

The Record, North Jersey Media Group Inc.,
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Bergen County, NJ

A sergeant with the Bergen County Police Department has filed a $3 million civil suit against his colleagues, accusing county police officers of tampering with and stealing evidence, falsifying reports, abusing sick time and adhering to a culture of cronyism and favoritism.

In the suit, which was filed April 3 and released Monday, Sgt. Robert Carney, former head of internal affairs, also accuses Police Chief Brian Higgins and Capt. Uwe Malakas of punishing him for numerous attempts at exposing illegal activity. Carney claims that two live rounds were taped to his locker — an area restricted to only high-ranking officers — as an ominous warning for him to cease his complaints about alleged wrongdoing within the department.

Carney joined the county police in 2002 and was promoted to sergeant in July 2006. He claims in his suit that he took the civil service test for lieutenant in October 2009 and scored well enough to advance in rank, but was instead made to take on the increased responsibility of lieutenant without being promoted.

Missing evidence?

During his five years in internal affairs, Carney alleges that he "reported many incidents of wrongful, abusive, and illegal behavior on the part of BCPD officers of various ranks, including those at the highest levels of command." These incidents, according to the civil suit, include the "unexplained and uninvestigated" loss of 130 items of evidence from the department's evidence locker. These losses were then never properly reported to the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office as per the state attorney general's guidelines, Carney's suit alleges.

Carney alleges that as his complaints against the department grew, he was stripped of his position in internal affairs, relegated to patrol and verbally demeaned by some of his colleagues.

'Many' issues

"It's not just one thing here, but many," said Carney's attorney, William Feldman, who spoke on behalf of his client. Carney "has been subjected to really harsh, detrimental treatment. … The goal here is to eliminate the hardships he's been subjected to."

Higgins and Malakas did not return calls seeking comment Monday.

Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said in an email that his office has reviewed Carney's claims and has met with Higgins and other members of the county police department to discuss the issues raised in the civil suit.

"We are obviously concerned about adherence to best police practices and attorney general guidelines, particularly in the area of internal affairs, where it has always been of the utmost priority to ensure public confidence and trust in processes designed to ensure the highest integrity of police investigations," Molinelli said. His office is working with Higgins and the department "to ensure complete and absolute compliance," Molinelli added.

The Prosecutor's Office has not made any determination of the extent of lost evidence alleged by Carney's suit or its potential impact on cases, he added.

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