Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Lawsuit Accuses Riverdale Park Speed Camera Program of Fraud

A lawsuit has been filed alleging that the Town of Riverdale Park committed fraud by permitted civilians to approve speed camera citations and then imprint the signature of a police officer who had not approved the citations.  A police officer has refused to participate in this and has stepped forwards with information about the town's actions.

The lawsuit alleges that in 2011, civilian employees logged into the system using Corporal Clayton Alford's ID and approved thousands of citations.  As a result, Corporal Alford's name, ID, and signature was imprinted on those citations, even during a period when he was on leave and not approving citations for several weeks.

Maryland transportation article 21-809 requires that all citations must contain "A signed statement by a duly authorized law enforcement officer employed by or under contract with an agency that, based on inspection of recorded images, the motor vehicle was being operated in violation of this subtitle". 

Correspondence cited in the lawsuit shows that speed camera contractor Optotraffic's liaison to the town, Angenette Criner, was copied in emails from civilians who had "cleared out approvals in the queue".  This indicates that Optotraffic was notified that civilians were logging in to the approval system.  Optotraffic provides the speed cameras and related services, including mailing citations and collecting fines for the town.

The 2012 General Assembly considered legislation which would have removed the requirement that citations be reviewed by police, however that bill did not pass.  StopBigBrotherMD.org and other citizens and organizations had presented testimony against that legislative change.

StopBigBrotherMD.org is in possession of correspondence between Riverdale Park and several ticket recipients who claimed that they had received speed camera citations which were in error in some way, either due to incorrect speed measurements or incorrectly identified vehicles.  It is unknown to us at this time whether review of those citations was performed by police officers, as required by law, or by civilians logged in as police officers.

According to public records, Riverdale Park's speed camera program grossed over $1.8million in speed camera fines in FY2011.  That amount is nearly 30% of the town's total revenues, and works out to $260 or over 6 citations for each resident of the town (though many citations would have gone to individuals not from Riverdale).  This revenue was shared between the town, Optotraffic, and the State of Maryland.

Alford's attorney has said the officer came forward because he was uncomfortable that his name had been signed onto tickets he didn't review and was concerned about possibly being forced to perjure himself if called into court.  Attorney Timothy Leahy was quoted by WTTG News as saying "In my mind, I think that is fraud".

We're not lawyers, but StopBigBrotherMD.org's opinion is that if citations were issued stating that the images were examined, bearing the apparent signature of a police officer, when in fact that officer did not examine the image or approve the citations at all, that would constitute fraud.  This offense would be a serious crime under Maryland law, not to mention a serious violation of the public trust.  Now the whistle has been blown.  The question is: will authorities in the State or Maryland do anything about this, or will they instead demonstrate to The People that the government is above the law?

Additional Coverage:

Update 6/12/2013: The court has dismissed the lawsuit against the town.  In their request for summary judgement, Riverdale Park DID NOT DISPUTE the factual basis of the claims that citations were approved by an officer who did not review or approve the tickets.  Rather, the court ruled that The People cannot file suit against a speed camera program FOR ANY REASON because the law does not explicitly authorize the government to be sued -- regardless of whether the town's activities were illegal.  READ COURT RULING
This is based on a prior court ruling filed on a different basis which drew the same conclusion, that speed camera programs are not subject to being sued under Maryland law REGARDLESS OF THE FACTUAL OR LEGAL BASIS FOR THE SUIT.