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Lawsuit claims many speed camera tickets issued by Riverdale Park are invalid

Riverdale Park is facing a class-action lawsuit claiming that tens of thousands of speed camera tickets should be invalidated because they were not properly approved by a police officer — a case that could cost the small town in Prince George’s County millions of dollars.

The suit, filed in Prince George’s County Circuit Court last week and first reported by Fox 5, claims that two civilian employees used a Riverdale Park police corporal’s computer login to approve thousands of tickets, including some when the corporal was away on leave. The practice is a violation of Maryland law — which requires that tickets be authorized by a police officer — and one that the corporal, Clayton Alford, and the civilian employees objected to with their supervisors, said Timothy P. Leahy, the Bowie lawyer who filed the suit.

“Everybody knew that you had to have a cop reviewing the photos for evidence of a speeding violation,” Leahy said. “Riverdale Park chose not to hire enough cops to handle the amount of citations that came in.”

Riverdale Park Mayor Vernon Archer declined to comment, saying it was the town’s “standard policy that we don’t comment on either lawsuits or personnel matters.” Riverdale Park’s police chief did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

The lawsuit includes two named plaintiffs, David Embody and Stephanie McKissic, who received speed camera tickets. Leahy said he also is representing Alford.

Exactly how many tickets could beaffected — and how much money is at stake — remains unclear. Using Riverdale Park budget figures, Leahy estimated that the town issued about 46,667 speed camera tickets in fiscal 2011, and those generated about $1.87  million in revenue. About two-thirds of those tickets, Leahy claims, are probably invalid, given that Alford and the two civilians were the only ones approving tickets beginning in 2010.

Attached to the lawsuit are e-mails from one civilian police employee indicating she and another civilian had some involvement in the ticketing process. In a May 2010, e-mail, the employee, Tracey Perrin, wrote that there were 2,900 citations to handle and she and another civilian would “. . . take 1,000 and clear them out.” In the same e-mail, she asked Alford to “. . . please try to get 900 out so we can start from scratch tomorrow.”

Leahy said both civilians were routinely using Alford’s login to approve tickets — even when Alford went on leave in 2011 from Feb. 17 to April 3. Attached to the lawsuit is one ticket, stemming from a Feb. 17, 2011, alleged violation, that bears Alford’s approval and apparent signature, though Leahy said Alfordwas on leave and could not have approved or signed it himself.

“He is very clear that these two were approving citations that were going out with his name, and that he objected to it with his police superiors, and they told him, ‘Go do your job,’ ” Leahy said.

Leahy said that Alford was suspended from the department Wednesday, two days after the lawsuit was filed. He said the corporal was given no reason for the suspension. Archer, the mayor, said the suspension is with pay.

The lawsuit asks for $5 million in damages, all the fines to be refunded and for the speed camera program to be suspended until officials can determine whether it is being operated legally.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.

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