NEW BRUNSWICK — A former campus police officer ruffled some feathers when he made an off-hand comment about an injured bird. Now the episode has turned into a major labor dispute at Rutgers University.

The trouble for Officer Edward Ruff began in 2013 when he responded to a call from a university employee about the bird found on campus. After Ruff suggested that the dying animal could be "helped" by "stepping on its neck or putting a bullet in it," the employee filed a complaint against Ruff.

Ruff then got into more trouble after allegedly trying to conduct a criminal background check and warrant search on the employee who complained about him.

Rutgers University Police Department in 2013 ordered that Ruff be suspended for 80 work hours after charging him with nine police code violations resulting from the bird incident.

Ruff continues to appeal the suspension in court even though he no longer works for RUPD. Records show he has since joined the police force in Verona, where he earns a base salary of $65,000. His career experience spans more than eight years, records show.

Ruff is appealing the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) decision not to grant him arbitration, arguing that he was not supplied with evidence before his pre-disciplinary hearing. Ruff also contends his hearing was scheduled within 48 hours of the receipt of the complaint being received, which was not adequate time to prepare his defense.

He also is suing the university and its police department in Superior Court claiming violations of his due process rights and state policies outlining police discipline.

The lawsuit argues that Ruff was charged with a "minor complaint" covering an employee's demeanor, including "bearing, gestures, language, attitude, demeanor or other similar actions" considered inappropriate. The punishment he got, however, is fitting of a "major discipline" because the suspension was for more than 40 hours, the lawsuit says.

Ruff's lawsuit seeks a court order overturning the punishment as well as an unspecified amount in damages.

His attorney, Catherine M. Elston of C. Elston & Associates in Wall, did not return a request for comment Thursday.

A spokesman for Rutgers also did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the litigation.

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