Two men are alleging Shepherd University fired them from their police officer positions over their age and over their complaints about student arrest and prosecution practices.
According to the federal lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, these practices included Shepherdstown’s mayor allegedly “regularly interceding” in investigations of students, particularly athletes, and the university arranging with a local magistrate to place students charged with misdemeanors on an “extrajudicial disciplinary procedure.”
Donald Buracker and Jay Longerbeam, who say Shepherd fired them in May, are asking a judge to force Shepherd to pay them monetary damages for, among other things, lost wages and the loss of all their retirement benefits. They’re also asking the judge to consider forcing the university to rehire them.
The suit is only against the university, not the mayor or magistrate, and it doesn’t currently name those individuals.
Christian Riddell, the Martinsburg-based attorney representing the former officers, said the mayor referenced is current Mayor Jim Auxer and the magistrate is current Jefferson County Magistrate Gail Boober.
“The University fully disputes the claims made in the civil lawsuit recently filed,” Shepherd General Counsel Alan Perdue wrote in an email. “The University has operated with integrity and earnestness to uphold the interests of our students and of the people of West Virginia. Our specific responses, to clarify the real facts in the matters cited in the civil complaint, will necessarily be made in the course of the litigation, and not in the news media.”
Boober said “I can’t comment on any pending litigation.”
Auxer didn’t return an email Monday, and his office was closed that day for Columbus Day.
Riddell, the former officers’ attorney, said he’s not aware of any legal standard for when an officer must make an arrest. He said he isn’t alleging that the Shepherd campus police department’s practices, when it came to not ticketing or arresting students, were illegal.
But he said “it amounts to Shepherd University students, particularity athletes, operating with impunity on their campus, doing whatever they wanted, and when a police officer tries to put their foot down, put a stop to illegal behavior, they get fired.”
“They wanted to enforce the law and Shepherd University didn’t want them to,” Riddell said.
He said the former officers’ complaints about student-prosecution practices were generally made to the police chief and university administrators.
Buracker also alleges in the suit that he was retaliated against after winning a grievance against the university in 2018. That victory had forced the school to promote him from a part-time to a full-time officer, Buracker says.
He’s a diabetic whose medication makes him urinate often, and the university used this as part of its justification for firing him, Buracker alleges.
Longerbeam says he criticized the police department in a February university human resources meeting and “refused to isolate [Buracker] socially the way the other officers had clearly been instructed to after” Buracker alleged wrongdoing and discrimination. Longerbeam alleges he was fired for this and to provide cover for Buracker’s firing.
Longerbeam also alleges he was “repeatedly reprimanded for attempting to enforce state law by writing citations.”