University responds to misconduct allegations by former officer Snook

Nick DeMarchis, Print Managing Editor

In a filing from Feb. 23, the University responded to allegations levied by former Public Safety officer Colby Snook in a January complaint, requesting that the suit be dismissed. Snook alleged that the University created a hostile work environment after he complained that former Chief Steve Barilar permitted the destruction of evidence related to a student misconduct case.

“In support of the motion, Bucknell cites the absence of any evidence of wrongdoing in the allegations made by the plaintiff and denies that the plaintiff was discharged after reporting the alleged ‘wrongdoing’ to the Union County District Attorney. The plaintiff resigned from the University, and the University denies that he was mistreated by other Bucknell employees,” read a press release by Director of Media Relations Mike Ferlazzo.

Scott Pollins ’91, Snook’s lawyer, told the Bucknellian, “Mr. Snook and I are reviewing Bucknell University’s preliminary objections to our complaint.”

The first page of the University’s brief argues that, “While Plaintiff [Snook] is no-doubt disgruntled, he is neither a victim nor a hero,” and that his suit should be dismissed.

“We disagree with Bucknell’s claim that Mr. Snook is not a hero,” Pollins said, as “Blowing the whistle in a law enforcement setting demands great courage and carries great risks. One such risk is being labeled disgruntled.”

The University’s brief also read that Snook’s allegations “amount to nothing more than a disagreement with how his boss [Chief Barilar] handled a specific case, not some exposure of unlawful conduct that is covered by the Whistleblower Law.”

Snook, through his complaint, expressed concerns that Barilar permitted the destruction of evidence related to that student misconduct case, and alleged the creation of a hostile work environment. 

“We will respond to Bucknell’s recent filing within the time required by the rules of procedure. We look forward to continuing our pursuit of justice for Mr. Snook,” Pollins said.

“Bucknell is aware that the plaintiff’s complaint to the Union County District Attorney was forwarded to the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office over six months ago. Bucknell has not received any official contact from the Attorney General suggesting that the investigation will result in any charges, but it is prepared and willing to cooperate in the investigation, should it move forward,” Ferlazzo’s press release concluded.

One of the key aspects of Snook’s complaint was the allegation that a male student — under investigation for invading the privacy of a female student — “was permitted to destroy potentially relevant evidence by re-setting his phone.”

The University countered by saying that, after the male suspect was detained, Barilar “met with the detained student’s parents, who complained to the Chief that their son needed access to his phone to log in to the University’s online exam platform.”

The University’s brief clarifies that it’s referring to its “dual authentication” system, currently administered through Duo. This system requires a “second factor” of authentication — beyond a password — to access much of  the University’s systems; Duo is often solely installed on students’ personal cell phones to do so.

The University’s L&IT website states that, should a student lose access to their Duo-enabled device, they “can come to the Tech Desk for assistance and direction. During evenings, weekends, and holidays, students can request a one-time use Duo emergency passcode” to regain access to their account.

The University continued by explaining that Snook “allegedly raised an objection to this procedure with the Chief, and he also noted that he disagreed with the decision not to bring criminal charges against M.S. [the male student] for a separate incident that had occurred in 2020.”

Snook’s original complaint alleged that he “learned that M.S. was a suspect in multiple similar incidents where female students were victimized. These prior incidents took place on campus in 2020 and 2021.” 

He then continues, offering that Chief Barilar decided to keep the 2020 case internal and declined to pursue criminal charges, and that Barilar prevented him from sending a “records preservation request” to Apple for an iCloud account owned by M.S. 

Ultimately, Snook says, M.S. initiated a factory reset on his phone, removing all user-accessible data from the device. The University argued that Snook, however, “offers no allegations (never mind factually supported ones) that suggest that anyone at Bucknell knew, authorized, or intended that the student would supposedly wipe evidence from his phone — because they did not.” 

“At best,” the University continued, “Plaintiff [Snook] alleges that M.S. — not Bucknell, Chief Barilar, or Public Safety — committed a wrongdoing and that Bucknell should have taken better care to prevent it. Again, that is not a violation of any regulation or statute.”

According to the University, Snook didn’t argue either that the District Attorney was pursuing charges against M.S., or that the victim sought to file charges against M.S. because he “cannot” do so. Thus, anything Barilar decided in this context would have been “a lawful exercise of his law enforcement discretion, not a violation of law,” according to the University.

“Officers routinely disagree with their superiors about how to resolve a matter. To allow a lawsuit to proceed when the only allegation is that a line officer is displeased with the decision of his superior,” the University argued, “would grind law enforcement to a halt.”

The following pages of the University’s brief argue that Snook was not “constructively terminated” because he never made reports of wrongful conduct by his peers or superior to the University, and that “he voluntarily resigned.” The University also says that Snook’s claims of “few comments by fellow officers, although apparently hurtful to Plaintiff [Snook], fail to rise to the level of a hostile workplace.”

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