Jury: W.Va. university retaliated against employees who claimed police falsified crime stats

WEST VIRGINIA — A jury on Feb. 5 ordered West VirginiaUniversity to pay $868,000 in damages to three campus police officers whocontend that the school retaliated against them for reporting that its campuspolice department falsified crime statistics.The university, however,says it will appeal the Monongalia County jury’s decision next week. WVU denies that it retaliated against the officers. The universityalso denies that it inaccurately reported campus crimestatistics.Kenneth Fike, Daniel Holsinger and Robert Ryan filed suit toprotest unfair employment practices at the public university in Morgantown. Thethree men claimed they were forced to take shortened lunch breaks and to performmore foot patrols than other WVU Department of Safety officers as a result oftheir efforts to expose the university’s alleged inaccurate reporting ofcrime statistics.The jury awarded each man $200,000 in punitive damages,in addition to other damages totaling $868,000. ”They’rejust relieved and very pleased to get the jury verdict. They’ve alwaysfelt that they were right and now other people know they were,” said JanePeak, attorney for the three men.But WVU maintains that Fike, Holsingerand Ryan were treated no differently than other DPS officers, who were subjectto the same kind of work as the plaintiffs. Holsinger was fired by theuniversity because of an unrelated incident, said Thomas Dorer, general counselfor WVU.In the trial, Fike, Holsinger and Ryan contended that the rootof their problem was ”good faith” reports they filed pointing outalleged misclassifications of on-campus burglaries as larcenies. Larcenies areusually classified as misdemeanor offenses, while burglaries are feloniesrequiring unlawful entry into a dwelling. Burglaries must be reported under thefederal Clery Act, but not larcenies.The Clery Act was signed into lawin 1990 and requires all colleges and universities that receive federalfinancial aid to publicly report information on crimes committed on campus. TheClery Act was named after Jeanne Ann Clery, who was raped and murdered in herdorm room at Lehigh University in April 1986.WVU maintains that it hascomplied with all federal requirements, and that the disputed crime reports wereclassified as larcenies because there was no evidence of unlawful entry in thosecases, Dorer said.”The evidence showed that we did absolutelynothing inappropriate. We follow the federal rules on how to characterizecrimes. We do that carefully,” Dorer said.During the time periodin question, WVU included larcenies in the university’s Clery Act reports,even though such inclusions are not required, Dorer added. While WVU is notcurrently reporting larcenies in its Clery Act report, the school does reportthem in reports to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which are available tothe public.Peak, who doubts WVU will win on appeal, said thejury’s decision sends colleges and universities two importantmessages.”One message is that they need to take this reportingseriously and report accurately under the definitions provided by the federallaw. And just as important, if not more important, is that when an employeecomplains [and] points something out that they feel is wrong, you should gocheck on it and not retaliate against them,” Peak said.