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Prince George’s town faces suit over speed camera tickets

Riverdale Park has been illegally using its network of speed cameras to illegally issue thousands of speeding citations, according to a $5 million class action lawsuit filed against the town.

The lawsuit claims that, in violation of state law, civilian employees of the Riverdale police department signed off on citations using the identification number of a town police officer who was unaware they were doing so. State law requires that duly appointed law enforcement officers have to provide a signed statement that they have inspected the information.

The 11-count lawsuit claims violations including civil conspiracy, unjust enrichment and fraud.

The lawsuit was filed last week in Prince George’s County Circuit Court by Timothy P. Leahy, an attorney with Byrd & Byrd LLC in Bowie. Leahy is representing two people who received speeding tickets from Riverdale cameras.

“This certainly looks like good, old-fashioned fraud going on,” Leahy said. “Things like this should shake people’s faith in their governments. What the town has done is shown that it’s more about the money than it is about public safety.”

Riverdale Park Police Department Cpl. Clayton Alford first brought the matter forward after he went on leave from Feb. 17, 2011, through April 3, 2011. When he came back, he claims in the lawsuit, he discovered that the town had let two civilian employees log in to the citation system under his name and authorize the speeding citations.

Leahy said Alford was subsequently placed on suspension.

“So far the only person who has been punished is the person trying to make sure the laws were being obeyed, Cpl. Alford,” Leahy said.

When reached Friday, Riverdale Park Mayor Vernon Archer declined to comment on the litigation or employment matters.

A look at the town’s fiscal 2011 budget shows that speed cameras were the second-highest source of revenue after real estate taxes. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011, the town received $1.86 million from the cameras, with some of the revenue going to the state. The town received $3.2 million in real estate taxes. Combined, Riverdale Park recorded $6.5 million in total revenue in fiscal 2011.

“It’s not bad for a municipality of about 1.6 square miles,” Leahy said. “It’s kind of obscene, actually. It’s a small town with an awful lot of speed camera revenue.”

Riverdale Park, incorporated in 1920, is a town of 6,956 located in Prince George’s County. The town contracted with Optotraffic, a subsidiary of Lanham-based Sigma Space Corp., to provide speed cameras that would measure speed at certain locations, take pictures of vehicles violating the speed limit and then mail out $40 citations.

According to the lawsuit, the town would have had to take in 46,667 paid citations in fiscal 2011 to make that kind of revenue. Alford provided email chains involving citizen employees of the police department that indicate the town processes, at times, thousands of citations a day.

Leahy said he thought the town was perhaps trying to save on personnel costs by finding a way not to have to hire more officers to handle the volume of citations.

“It’s just gross and stupid to handle it this way when you’re dealing with this kind of workload,” Leahy said.

According to a story in The Gazette last week, the Prince George’s County town of Brentwood, which has a contract with the same camera operators, refunded more than 3,500 tickets in 2010 when the person issuing the tickets was not officially a police officer.