After NJ trooper stole nude pics during stops, women sue state
Despite the state’s efforts to squash her lawsuit, the court is allowing a woman to sue over a trooper who stole nude photos from her phone during a traffic stop.
Marquice D. Prather was fired from the State Police and sentenced to three years of probation last year after he was caught pulling over women, going through their phones and sometimes making copies of intimate photos and videos.
At least two woman have now sued Prather and the state over the invasion of privacy.
Marielle Kuczinski was one of the victims who State Police internal investigators contacted in 2017 about Prather’s pervy activities.
Prather pulled over Kuczinski on Route 95 in January 2016. She didn’t have her insurance card, so she gave the trooper her phone, which had a copy of her insurance information.
Prather went back to his vehicle and then returned the phone to her without giving her a ticket.
State Police informed Kuczinski a year later that Prather had made copies of the nude images on her phone and then shared them. She said the photos had been taken to document her weight loss.
In January 2018, Kuczinski, who is in her mid 20s, sought court permission to file a late notice of tort claim, which is the first step in suing a public agency.
The state argued that Kuczinski should not be allowed to sue because she was too late in filing the notice. A Superior Court judge, however, found that “extraordinary circumstances” should be considered and he allowed her late filing.
Kuczinski argued that the news of the Prather investigation caused her great anguish, which she had spent the year trying to resolve. She said that the anxiety and depression from an abusive relationship and her best friend’s suicide was exacerbated by finding out about her photos.
“Here, I find that the plaintiff sustained severe psychological injuries as a result of the incident and, as such, this constitutes extraordinary circumstances,” the judge said.
“Her parents were taking care of her. She had trust issues. She had anxiety. And it doesn't […] do anything to simply say that she had access to a telephone or that she could drive to go someplace. That's kind of ludicrous to suggest that that takes away or eliminates that extraordinary circumstances which I've just referred to.”
The state Attorney General’s Office appealed, saying that the judge abused his discretion. But an appellate court panel on Tuesday upheld his ruling.
Prather and the state also are being sued by a New Orleans woman was pulled over by Prather on the Garden State Parkway in July 2016 while she was visiting her mother in the state.
Mandy Garcia’s lawsuit says she also gave Prather her cellphone, which he kept in his car “for an inordinate amount of time." She said Prather did not give her a ticket but asked her questions about “what types of beaches she likes to visit in New Jersey.” She said the trooper's behavior left her worried about her safety.
Her lawsuit says that State Police investigators informed her a year later that Prather had copied pictures, videos and phone numbers from her phone.
Prather was not the only trooper accused of misconduct with women who had been pulled over. Officials charged Eric Richardson with pulling over women and harassing them for dates. Last year, he pleaded guilty to illegally looking up personal information on an FBI database and was sentenced to three years of probation.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.