NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Nearly a year after he was first suspended from duty and arrested, a New Jersey State Trooper was sentenced to three years probation for invading the privacy of women he pulled over and covering up his actions by falsifying and tampering with public records.
Marquice Prather, a Linden resident, admitted to tampering with evidence and falsifying records as part of a plea deal with prosecutors that will keep him out of prison if he can complete probation.
The New Jersey Attorney General's Office, which prosecuted the case, declared in a press release that Prather "conducted improper stops of female drivers in order to view the private contents of their cell phones and proposition them to meet him socially."
"He looked through personal information and images on the phones and, in some cases, reproduced intimate photos and videos of the women," read the release.
The case against him reportedly began when several woman complained to the State Police about his improper behavior. Other women also participated in the investigation against him after it was launched.
"The New Jersey State Police Office of Professional Standards investigated numerous incidents involving Prather that reflected a pattern of pulling over women, ranging in age from 18 to 42, and soliciting them to go on a date with him or give him their phone numbers," read the December 8 press release from the AG's Office.
Police soon discovered that Prather had been incorrectly recording his traffic stops to indicate drivers that he pulled over were male when they were female, and falsely claiming that he experienced "microphone malfunctions" when he had intentionally deactivated his microphone.
The discovery led to criminal charges out of Woodbridge Township, on counts of falsifying public records and tampering with public records.
Prather was never indicted, but instead pleaded guilty to third-degree invasion of privacy, fourth-degree tampering with physical evidence, and fourth-degree falsifying records.
The invasion of privacy count encompassed actions taken by the trooper between December 2014 through November 2016 in a number of different communities: Upper Freehold, Millstone, Wall, Tinton Falls, Middletown, Asbury Park, Woodbridge, Sayreville, Jackson, and Hamilton.
"Prather requested and searched the cell phones of numerous female drivers without justification, after asking the women to unlock the phones," according to the AG's Office. He also "disposed of suspected marijuana that he seized from the vehicle of a female motorist."
During sentencing, Superior Court Judge Benjamin Bucca asked Prather: "In reflecting back on this, what caused you to abuse your authority as a State Trooper? What do you think was the cause of it?"
"Just poor judgment," responded Prather.
Bucca asked Prather to "dig deeper."
"We all have moments where we have poor judgment or whatnot," said Bucca. "What caused you to be in a position of power and to take advantage of that? What comes to your mind?"
"I just, I guess, think about it every day, like something I have to live with everyday: the poor decisions that I made," said Prather. "But I guess my mind is so far past what I did, like trying to move past it, that I can't really come up with anything to tell you what I was thinkng at that time."
Prather said he was currently working "odds and ends types of jobs" and focused on raising his six-year-old son.
Bucca sentenced the 38-year-old trooper on December 9 to three years of probation, and ordered him to pay a $5,000 fine, and perform 50 hours of community service.
Prather also forfeited his law enforcement position and is banned from holding future public employment in New Jersey. Bucca ordered him to have no contact with his victims or their immediate families.
"You were entrusted with the power of the State Police and all that comes with it and you clearly violated that," said Bucca, adding that Prather "invalidated" and "degraded" women.
"Thankfully, in our society today, we are reaching a higher level of sensitivity as to that whole issue, and as to the never-ending efforts of women to empower themselves in our society."
Bucca warned that Prather's issues with women could manifest themselves in the future if they go unaddressed.
The AG's Office credited Deputy Attorneys General Brian Faulk, Jonathan Gilmore and Charles Wright with prosecuting the case as part of the Division of Criminal Justice's Corruption Bureau.
Prather's attorney Melvin Wright asked for his client's cell phone back at the conclusion of sentencing, but Faulk responded "the phone still has some… illegal pictures on it that he shouldn't have access to."
The Deputy Attorney General stated that there is a civil case pending against Prather, "so we can't wipe the phone because there's evidence" that needs to be maintained.