The Massachusetts State Police is a unique law enforcement agency that does not have to compensate troopers who are suspended without pay while facing criminal charges, even when they are acquitted or the charges are dropped, the state’s highest court ruled Thursday.
The Supreme Judicial Court said internal disciplinary rules used by State Police are the deciding factor in a lawsuit filed by Trooper Nathanael Perez, who lost nine months of pay, retirement time, and other benefits when he was charged with perjury and misleading police while working as a Springfield police officer in 2015.
A Superior Court judge threw out the charges for lack of evidence.
Perez insisted he was entitled to compensation under a statute known as the Perry Law. That statute explicitly mandates that public employees must be suspended without pay if charged with job-related crimes — and that they must be made rehired and made financially whole if acquitted.
Writing for a unanimous SJC, Justice Serge Georges Jr. said the Perry Law does not apply because Perez was suspended under the State Police’s internal disciplinary procedures, not the law itself.
“State employers (including the State police) must adhere only once they have chosen to invoke the Perry Law in suspending an employee,” Georges wrote. “If a different legal authority is invoked when suspending an employee, the provisions of the Perry Law are not applicable.”
State Police are not part of the civil service system, the SJC noted. “The Legislature has acted to accommodate the need for self-administering systems of discipline for State police troopers, in conjunction with, but separate from, the general civil service laws,” Georges wrote.
Perez joined the State Police in 2016, was indicted on the Springfield charges in 2019, and had the charges dismissed in 2020, according to court records. He returned to active duty that same year.
In 2020, he earned $118,000, followed by $126,000 in 2021, and $143,000 in 2022, according to state records.
John R. Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.