Riverdale Park Police are accused of illegally issuing thousands of speed camera tickets. A lawsuit filed Monday claims employees used an officer's name to fraudulently sign off on tickets he never saw. If true, the city could owe millions of dollars in refunds.
An officer inside the department blew the whistle, claiming tickets were being issued with his name and a forged signature on them, but that he never reviewed. The allegations are laid out in court documents accusing the department of fraud.
The accusations angered Baruti Ngankoi.
"I paid like $120," he said, doing the math on three tickets at $40 each.
All of them were from the same camera at the intersection of Route 410 and Taylor Road.
The town is so small, it is easy to miss, but it has more than enough speed enforcement cameras in its 1.6 square miles to catch drivers passing through.
"I should get my money back," Ngankoi said.
A lawsuit filed in Prince George's County Circuit Court now claims the police department failed to issue tickets by the book. An officer is supposed to review each ticket under state law. Court documents show Officer Clay Alford's name on a ticket that was issued when he was on leave from the department.
"In my mind, I think that is fraud," said Attorney Tim Leahy of Byrd & Byrd Law Firm, which filed the lawsuit.
Leahy represents Officer Alford and two plaintiffs ticketed by the town that are now suing the town. Emails between the officer and two civilian employees describes splitting up the citations saying, "We all will take 1000 and clear them out..." which is against state law for civilian employees to do.
"People are receiving a citation that says a law enforcement officer reviewed the images, and based on that review of those images, [it] found that there was a violation," Leahy said.
The attorney estimates about two-thirds of the city's speed camera tickets since 2009 were fraudulently approved using the officer's login and a forged signature. In 2011, the town earned $1.8 million from speed cameras, nearly a third of the town's budget.
The lawsuit demands those tickets be refunded.
"I think it's all about money," complained Ola Ijiwole, who drives through the area.
Based on additional emails, the attorney also claims the department rubber-stamped tickets in mere seconds.
"They completed a certain number in 3 and a half hours, which ended up being about 19 seconds per approval time," Leahy said.
Riverdale Park Police did not return our call for comment. Neither did the mayor.
Officer Alford's attorney says he came forward because he was uncomfortable with his name being signed onto tickets he didn't review and did not want to be in a position to possibly perjure himself if called into court.