Spurned recruit asks judge to force State Police to accept him
A federal jury last year gave Orlando Riley the vindication he was seeking, ruling that the State Police had barred the veteran New Bedford officer from its academy because he is black.
Riley had aced the entrance exam and passed his health screenings, but when it came to his background interview, Riley said he was treated like a criminal suspect by a white trooper.
Now, with the fresh $130,000 civil verdict in his favor, Riley is waging another challenge to the state’s top law enforcement agency: asking a judge to order the department to take him on as a recruit.
“The only way to make him whole from that discrimination would be to give him what he lost,” said Riley’s lawyer, Ellen J. Messing. “He wants to be a state trooper.”
But the State Police don’t want him. Officials believe he was deceptive during the application process. Even as the agency is emphasizing efforts to diversify the ranks, its lawyers from Attorney General Maura Healey’s office are opposing Riley’s new request and pressing to overturn the jury verdict.
Riley’s push comes amid an overtime fraud scandal and a reckoning about the endemic lack of diversity within the State Police, where in 2018, just over 5 percent of sworn personnel were black and less than 6 percent were women — numbers that have decreased slightly in recent years. There are no minorities among the top ranks today.
“Any process that produces a 94 percent male and 89 percent white staff for sworn officers is something that is clearly discriminatory,” said state Representative Russell E. Holmes of Mattapan, who is one of state’s few black elected officials and has been pressing for change in the agency’s recruitment process.
State Police spokesman David Procopio said that the agency has “no tolerance for discrimination of any type” and added that Colonel Kerry A. Gilpin, who took the helm in 2017, “has prioritized increasing diversity.”
Procopio said the agency’s recruitment unit “works daily to identify qualified candidates of all backgrounds and build bonds with diverse communities through community outreach, school visits, and job fairs.”
Despite years of diversity pledges from top agency officials, the complexion of the State Police’s personnel hasn’t changed much.
“Society is changing, and so should we,” Colonel John DiFava said almost two decades ago. In 2008, Colonel Mark Delaney said, “I think we need to do better, and we’d like to see more minorities advance through the management structure.”
The number of black troopers, however, decreased slightly between 2014 and 2018, state data show. As of last July, there were 116 black troopers and 127 women on the force — 5.3 percent and 5.8 percent of sworn officers, respectively.
By comparison, about 9 percent of all Massachusetts residents are black and more than 51 percent are female.
A spokeswoman for Governor Charlie Baker said that “while there is more work to be done to increase diversity at the State Police,” Baker, a Republican, “supports Colonel Gilpin’s ongoing efforts.”
Riley, an officer with the New Bedford Police Department since 2002, hoped to join the state’s most prestigious law enforcement arm when he took the written examination for the State Police Academy in 2009.
He earned a perfect score, and in 2011 he received an offer to complete the application process and, if successful, enter the academy as a trainee.
His federal civil trial opened a window into the State Police recruitment process and raised new questions about the fairness of its background investigations.
The agency weathered a separate scandal last year, following revelations that a background investigation had failed to flag Trooper Leigha Genduso, an admitted drug dealer who had testified in federal court about her role in a drug trafficking ring.
Riley had no similar red flags.
Riley said his interviewer, Trooper Robert Lima, denigrated his New Bedford neighborhood, expressed disbelief that he did not gamble, and accused Riley of falsifying a letter confirming he graduated from high school.
Lima’s report said Riley appeared timid, untruthful, and accepting of “mediocrity.”
Riley was subsequently disqualified from entering the State Police Academy and filed the discrimination suit in 2015. The State Police declined to make Lima, who remains a trooper, available for an interview.
The agency argued in court that Riley was legitimately disqualified because he “engaged in a broad pattern of deception designed to conceal embarrassing aspects of his past.”
Among his alleged deceptions, lawyers said Riley failed to disclose that he was a subject of a New Bedford Police Department internal affairs investigation into how an arrested man escaped the custody of another officer when Riley was nearby.
Riley was warned to be more careful but never issued a formal written reprimand.
The State Police also emphasized that Lima had uncovered disqualifying information for multiple white State Police candidates the same year.
But after hearing evidence that Riley was treated differently from white applicants, a jury awarded him a total of $130,000 for emotional damages from the discrimination and the difference between his New Bedford pay and what he would have earned as a trooper.
Last month, Riley asked US District Judge Denise J. Casper to place him into the position he “was discriminatorily denied.”
Casper is expected to rule on Riley’s request in coming weeks — as well as the agency’s effort to overturn the jury verdict.