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NJ Open Government Notes

NJ Attorney General’s office discloses name of Trooper forced to resign for “engaging in racially offensive behavior.”

On February 17, 2017, my non-profit, Libertarians for Transparent Government (LFTG), sued the New Jersey Division of State Police seeking disclosure of the name of a Trooper who, according to the Division’s annual report, “was required to . . . separate from employment . . . [for] having questionable associations, engaging in racially offensive behavior and publicly discussing police patrol procedures.” Today, while LFTG’s lawsuit is pending before the New Jersey Supreme Court, the State’s Attorney General disclosed the Trooper’s name in accordance with a newly-minted Law Enforcement Directive that requires police agencies to disclose the “identifies of officers who commit serious disciplinary violations.”

According to the Attorney General’s June 15, 2020 letter, the Trooper in question was Rachel Trent who resigned from the Division as of March 10, 2015. Trent appears to be the same Trooper who sued the Division in 2014 claiming to have retired to escape a hostile work environment. According to a May 22, 2015 news article, Trent claimed that “she was subjected to rumors about her sexual preferences and malicious mischief such as finding urine in her shoes.”

The trial court dismissed Trent’s lawsuit on June 13, 2017 and on June 24, 2019, the Appellate Division upheld the dismissal.

In his Directive, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal stated that his office’s previous directives do “not go far enough [and that] more is required to promote trust, transparency and accountability.” “It is time to end the practice of protecting the few to the detriment of the many,” Grewal wrote. “I am treating disciplinary violations as sufficiently serious to warrant public disclosure of an officer’s identity when the sanction involves termination of employment, reduction in rank or grade, and/or a suspension greater than five days.”

Grewal’s Directive applies not only to the State Police but to all New Jersey police agencies. It will take effect on August 31, 2020.

LFTG’s lawsuit was filed in response to the Division’s denial of its Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the Trent’s name. The Division maintained that names of disciplined Troopers were “considered exempt personnel records.” LFTG lost its suit in both the trial court and the Appellate Division. It is currently pending before the New Jersey Supreme Court. LFTG is being represented by CJ Griffin of Hackensack.

By John Paff

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project