A New Jersey state trooper was awarded $250,000 Wednesday after a jury found he was the subject of a false accusation of wrongdoing, his attorney said.
An attorney for the defendant called the decision “chilling” in its repercussions for reporting information.
Trooper Jaime Ablett and his wife were involved in a car crash in Buena Vista Township in 2009 following a a wedding reception at the 5 Points Inn.
Ablett’s attorney, Colin Bell, said that Kristen McGee, of Vineland, who was 16 at the time and working at the 5 Points, “falsely claimed” that Ablett was the driver of the car and switched seats with his wife after the accident. Bell added that McGee’s father, Dennis McGee, of Vineland, a former Atlantic City police officer, allegedly called the New Jersey State Police Office of Professional Standards and said Ablett was “intoxicated” and was “flagged” at the bar due to his “high level of intoxication.”
A State Police internal affairs investigation of Ablett cleared him of any wrongdoing, Bell said.
“Eyewitness testimony at the trial demonstrated that Mr. Ablett was not intoxicated, was not ‘flagged,’ and did not switch seats after the accident,” Bell said in a statement. “The jury's verdict confirmed that Mr. Ablett had proven that the accusations against him were false. ... My client was falsely accused of serious wrongdoing that could have resulted in him being fired or even prosecuted criminally.”
The jury awarded damages of $25,000 against Kristen McGee and $225,000 against Dennis McGee, Bell said.
The attorney for Kristen McGee, Mike Pender, said that Kristen McGee told her father about what she heard from others at the accident scene, whereupon he called a confidential state trooper hotline to tell them what she heard. The father then called back three days later to say that upon reflection, he did not want his family involved.
“Because of that, the father gets sued for defamation?” Pender said. “A retired police officer calls a confidential hotline and (wants to) be anonymous, and he gets whacked with a quarter million dollar judgement? It’s unbelievable.”
Pender alleged that Ablett lost no time or money due to the investigation, adding that “an off-duty police officer sues a 16-year-old girl? … It’s not like she’s some villain.”
He said that since standards are higher for defamation cases involving public figures, the McGees have a good case for appeal.
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