Police union sues over cellphone searches after rowdy graduation party
Investigation of party involving rookie Port Authority of NY and NJ cops unconstitutionally relied on searches of their private cellphones, union claims
By Larry Neumeister
NEW YORK — An investigation of a rowdy graduation party involving rookie Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officers unconstitutionally relied on searches of their private cellphones, the union for officers claimed in a lawsuit Wednesday.
The Port Authority Police Benevolent Association cited what it calls "widespread, ongoing and unconstitutional searches" of private cellphones in a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court. It sought unspecified damages for the handling of the probe, which resulted in the firings of nine officers and the suspensions of several others.
The lawsuit stemmed from the Port Authority's probe of a rowdy graduation party by out-of-uniform and off-duty rookie officers at a Hoboken, New Jersey, bar last August. The lawsuit said some published reports about the party suggested that misconduct included sexually assaulting women, stealing alcohol and destroying private property.
According to the lawsuit, Port Authority investigators intimidated officers into giving up their cellphones by threatening their jobs and making them stand at attention as investigators went through the contents of their phones.
In a release, the union said between 20 to 40 officers had their phones searched by investigators who manipulated them, telling them they were merely "witnesses" as they searched their phones for information including private text messages and photographs.
The cellphone searches continued for more than a month without a warrant, probable cause or reasonable suspicion with the approval of officials within the bistate agency, the lawsuit said.
The Port Authority, which operates area bridges, tunnels and transit hubs and owns the World Trade Center site, said in a statement that it "strongly disputes" the union's allegations about "egregious behavior at this party involving newly sworn" 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 statement said.
The agency promised to "vigorously defend" its probe.
One of the union's lawyers, Richard Emery, said officers have constitutionally protected rights to privacy "in the contents of their personal cellphones just like the rest of us."
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press