Hit & Run

Nine Years Paid Vacation for New Jersey Cop Accused of Sexually Assaulting Inmate

The city has spent nearly $2 million on leave pay plus legal costs.


Paterson Police Department/Facebook

Who says police departments always move swiftly to protect their own? Sometimes it takes them almost nine years to find a fellow officer not guilty. Such is the case with Manuel Avila, a Paterson, New Jersey, cop who was accused of sexual assault in 2007. A local woman claimed that Avila had forced her to perform oral sex on him while she was in police custody.

A few days before the alleged assault, a city psychiatrist had ruled Avila unfit to carry a weapon and recommended that he retire. Instead, police officials decided to reassign him for six months to a duty that didn't involve carrying a weapon, at which point he would reach 20 years of service—a pension milestone. Avila was assigned to monitor municipal holding cells.

Avila was acquitted of criminal charges related to the alleged assault in 2010. The city settled a civil lawsuit with his accuser in 2011, agreeing to pay her $710,000. But somehow, the police department's internal investigation persisted through early 2016.

Throughout this time, Avila was on paid leave from the Paterson Police Department. By the end of his nine years on suspension, Avila had collected about $900,000 in income for doing nothing. With Avila's pay, the settlement with his accuser, and legal fees, the city has spent about $1.9 million on this case.

Perhaps Avila is innocent, but how could it possibly have taken the city nine years to determine this? "Why this took so long is beyond my control," Mayor Joey Torres told the Paterson Press. "Definitely, this should have been settled long ago. I'm just glad we're bringing it to closure."

All disciplinary charges against Avila were dropped in February, according to a records request filed by Paterson Press. The city and Avila signed a settlement agreement under which Avila will retire, receive around $85,000 in "accrued money owed" for things like vacation and sick days, and may be eligible for lifetime medical benefits and pension payments.