The identities of seven State Police troopers alleged to have gang-raped a Rider University student should be protected in closed-door disciplinary hearings because their accuser has been "roundly discredited," an appeals court decided today.
The names of the male troopers have not been made public since the woman, then 25, claimed in 2007 that she was sexually assaulted at the Ewing home of one of the officers after she and the group were drinking in KatManDu, a Trenton bar.
No criminal charges were filed, but the troopers - who were off-duty - were suspended without pay. The allegations were investigated by local and state authorities during criminal and internal investigations. Each man was charged administratively, including three charges related to the Ewing incident.
The investigations revealed that, at a minimum, there had been potentially embarrassing sexual activity by the officers, who are bound by a professional code of conduct. There has never been any proof that the men had non-consensual sex with the woman, authorities have said.
"If the identities of the individual troopers are revealed and the details of the evening are made public, the harm to their familial relationships may be incalculable and forever impaired," Judges Mary Catherine Cuff and Edith Payne said in their opinion.
"The privacy interests of individual troopers should prevail, at least until a fact-finder finds that there is a basis for the charges following a full evidentiary hearing," the judges said.
Lee Moore, spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office, said his office was reviewing the opinion and considering filing a motion for reconsideration with the Appellate Division.
The need for transparency is important, Moore said.
The woman's lawyer, Nat Dershowitz, said he was appalled that the judges rendered an opinion about his client's credibility without hearing her testimony.
"This woman did not consent," he said. "She was given drinks and abused by seven people."
After reviewing investigative documents, the judges remarked it was clear why the case had never been presented to a grand jury to consider criminal charges.
The information provided by the victim, they said, was "roundly discredited" and "raises very substantial doubt that any fact-finder will find that some or all of the activities were without the consent of the woman."
The woman allegedly told police the men may have believed the sex was consensual, according to police reports. She was not restrained, did not say no or try to leave, she allegedly told police.
After the troopers were charged administratively, their attorneys requested the disiplinary hearings be closed to the public. State Police Col. Rick Fuentes ordered the hearings open, and an administrative judge agreed.
The appeals panel delayed the hearings to consider the matter. In the 13-page decision, the judges acknowleged the "traditional abhorrence of secret trials," but noted that public hearings are not an absolute right.
The ruling "is loud and clear about what we already knew, which is that this case has always been about consensual adult relations," said David Jones, president of the New Jersey State Troopers Fraternal Association. "Because of an incredulous complaint, no person should have to forfeit their privacy rights to their employer."