Judge by the color of their skin and not their character.
A veteran state trooper alleges in a whistleblower lawsuit she was retaliated against by her superiors after raising objections that police academy background checks were compromised because of pressure to increase racial diversity among State Police ranks.
Acting Sgt. Jaclyn Jiras, who spent five months working as a background investigator at a time the division was being scrutinized for its lack of black cadets, claims she was reassigned and denied a promotion when she flagged applicants with troubled legal histories and criminal backgrounds.
Court records and administrative documents obtained by NJ Advance Media also show Jiras and another trooper, acting Sgt. Christopher Griffin, were disciplined for allegedly leaking information from confidential background investigations to a retired trooper who ran a Facebook group for State Police members.
Jiras claims in her suit that her superiors, under pressure from the state Attorney General’s Office to boost recruit class diversity on short notice, approved candidates who had been automatically disqualified for having suspended licenses, criminal affiliations and active warrants.
The lawsuit names the state of New Jersey, the State Police, Superintendent Col. Rick Fuentes, and Capt. Mark Santiago as defendants.
Spokesmen for the State Police and Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on the allegations.
Jiras was responsible for conducting background checks for the division’s 152nd and 153rd academy classes in 2012 and 2013, according to the lawsuit, filed Feb. 10 in Superior Court in Mercer County.
Both classes were touted in succession as the most diverse in State Police history. But they came only after the New Jersey chapter of the NAACP threatened legal action because the division had accepted a class with just five black troopers in 2011.
The 2011 drop in black recruits was seen as particularly troubling for the State Police, which historically struggled to grow its ranks of racial minority and female troopers but was publicly increasing its outreach efforts. The division also had spent a decade under federal monitoring for racial profiling and entered into a settlement with the NAACP in 2000 that mandated improved minority recruiting.
“We’re not looking to change the process or lower the standards,” said Melvin Warren, the criminal justice chairman for the state NAACP who has worked with State Police on recruitment efforts. “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.”
Warren declined to comment on the case because he was not familiar with the specific allegations.
Jiras’ attorney, Katherine Hartman, said her client was not opposed to diversity efforts, but raised objections 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.