Bucknell_Winter_2022.jpg

Bucknell University in the snow; library to the left, and the the main quad ahead.

Lewisburg, Pa. – A former public safety officer at Bucknell University has sued the university, alleging that former Chief of Public Safety Steve Barilar mishandled crime cases on campus.

The former public safety officer, Colby Snook, filed the lawsuit on Jan. 4 at the Union County Courthouse claiming that the university violated the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law. Snook claims that he was subjected to a hostile work environment in retaliation for “blowing the whistle about police misconduct within Bucknell’s Public Safety Office,” according to the complaint.

Snook, who worked for the university’s public safety department for six years, eventually was forced to resign from his position on Nov. 16, 2021.

According to the lawsuit, Barilar mishandled a case when he gave a student an opportunity to erase cell phone evidence of a harassment incident in which the student was allegedly involved.

Barilar also advised that criminal harassment and evidence tampering charges not be pressed against the male student, despite having an alleged history of attempting to invade the privacy of female students, according to the complaint.

Snook was one of the officers to respond to the harassment call on May 17 when a male student was reported to be recording a female student at a campus restroom. Barilar allegedly told the officers to seize and place the male student’s cell phone into evidence at the public safety office. The phone was turned off when the officers placed it into evidence. They were told the phone could only be turned on after a search warrant was obtained and the Pennsylvania State Police computer crime lab had possession of the phone, according to the complaint.

However, Snook alleges that Barilar allowed the male student to tamper with evidence after he met with the student and his family just a day or two later, according to court documents. The male student came into the public safety office, where Barilar told the officer on duty to allow the student to have the phone.

Snook alleges that during this time, the male student was able to do a factory reset on the phone to erase evidence from the harassment incident, according to the complaint.

Officers applied for a search warrant for the phone and eventually gave it to state police, who confirmed that a program to wipe the phone had been downloaded and utilized during the time period that the phone was in evidence at Bucknell’s public safety office.

No criminal charges were filed against the male student, and he was allowed to remain enrolled at the university, Snook alleged in the complaint. The male student also allegedly was involved in previous similar harassment incidents, including one in which a male suspect allegedly recorded females in the shower at a campus residence hall.

For one of the previous incidents, the male student received an internal harassment charge at Barilar’s direction – no criminal charges were filed. Barilar did not pursue harassment charges for the May 17, 2021, incident either, telling Snook instead that only a disorderly conduct charge could be filed.

Snook reported Barilar’s alleged unethical actions on May 21 to human resources at Bucknell University. Three weeks later, Snook contacted Union County District Attorney Pete Johnson who forwarded the complaint to the public corruption unit at the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office.

By July, Snook was called to meet with Bucknell University’s general counsel, Karin Rilley. According to the complaint, Rilley became visibly angry during the meeting and “threatened Snook about his future employment with Bucknell and she indicated that his actions did not have the best interests of the university in mind.”

Snook also was treated differently within the public safety department after he reported Barilar’s misconduct, according to the lawsuit. Snook was excluded from a department-wide training on June 30. One of Snook’s co-workers told him that Cpt. Lauver in the public safety department mentioned that “they did not want to waste resources on Snook in hopes that he would leave the department soon,” according to the complaint.

In the complaint, Lauver is accused of questioning Snook several times about leaving the public safety office. Lauver allegedly once called Snook at 4 a.m. to say, “he heard ‘rumors’ and Snook should let him know when he was planning to leave,” according to the complaint.

Barilar also allegedly ostracized Snook after the officer had reported his superior. By Aug. 20, the stress and anxiety became bad enough that Snook applied for and was granted a work-related stress leave of absence, according to the document.

Snook sought care from a medical professional for anxiety and depression attributed to the hostile environment he was facing at work, he reported. Before his return-to-work date on Nov. 16, Snook emailed human resources stating he felt forced to resign due to the hostile treatment he had been subjected to, according to the complaint. 

The lawsuit filed in Union County is not the first time Barilar had been accused of misconduct. In 2000, when Barilar worked for Pennsylvania State Police, charges of obstruction of administration of justice and intimidation of a witness were filed against him. Court documents outline a situation in which Barilar’s wife was pulled over by a state trooper and issued a speeding ticket. Barilar later talked with the trooper and allegedly pressured him into presenting only partial evidence in court, so that the judge would throw the case out. 

Last week, Bucknell announced that a new chief of public safety, Anthony Morgan, was hired after a nationwide search. His first day will be Feb. 1. Barilar is retiring at the end of January after 11 years of service, according to a Bucknell press release.

Barilar's retirement "had been planned long ago," according to Mike Ferlazzo, director of media relations for Bucknell. As for the lawsuit, Ferlazzo said the university cannot comment on active legal cases. 

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