Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Sussex Sheriff pays out $95,000 to female lawyer who said that jail guard "wanded" her between her legs.

On March 21, 2018, the Sussex County Sheriff's Office paid $95,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a Hackettstown lawyer who claimed that a Sheriff's Officer improperly placed a metal detecting wand between her legs when she was entering the Keogh-Dwyer Correctional Facility in Newton to visit a client. 

In her lawsuit, Bonita B. Bourke claimed that as a lawyer she routinely goes through security at correctional facilities and courthouses.  But, when she and a male intern entered the Newton faciility on August 20, 2014, Officer Sean Long allegedly departed from what she was accustomed to and moved his wand "upward under her skirt, lifting [her] skirt."  Despite her protests, she claimed that Long used his wand on her again by placing it between her legs and telling her to "spread your legs."  She claimed she became upset but was wanded a third time.

Bourke claimed that Long apologized to her as she was leaving the facility.  She alleged that the incident caused her to become "anxious and disoriented" and that she "vomited on the side of the road" while driving back to her office.

The case is captioned Bourke v. County of Sussex, et al, Sussex County Superior Court Docket No. SSX-L-664-14 and the Bourke's attorney was John F. McDonnell of Washington.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of the the lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Sussex County or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Bourke $95,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Stratford quietly paid out $125,000 to settle DPW worker's sexual harassment lawsuit.

On December, 8, 2017, Stratford Borough (Camden County) agreed to pay $125,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by former Department of Public Works employee who claimed that the former Borough Clerk would grab his rear end, ask him whether he was wearing a thong and say "Hubba hubba hubba."

In his lawsuit, Andrew Marano claimed that former Borough Clerk John Keenan had been sexually harassing him and other employees "for years."  Marano's lawsuit, which was filed on April 22, 2016, claimed that Keenan would repeatedly comment on "how tan he was," rub his shoulders and back while they were in Borough Hall and sometimes "grab or rub Marano's rear end." 

According to the lawsuit, Keenan, who reportedly oversaw the DPW, asked Marano who was soaked after putting up a clock in the rain, to "take his jeans off and wear a yellow thong for the rest of the day."  According to Marano, Keenan "frequently made it known that he was homosexual" and "would text Marano while he was on vacation and ask Marano if he was 'at the nude beach' [and] to take pictures for him."

Marano claimed that Stratford had no meaningful sexual harassment policy and that "Keenan would frequently hire people to whom he was sexually attracted, even if they were not qualified or otherwise prohibited from working for Stratford."  Marano's lawsuit alleged that one of Keenan's favored hirees "would work during the summer with just a vest, without a shirt underneath" and said that "If I blow him [Keenan], he'll get me a motorcycle."  According to the lawsuit, the hiree soon ended up owning a motorcycle shop.  Marano claimed that Keenan's sexual harassment compelled him to go on a leave of absence and ultimately lose his job.

Marano's suit also claims that Keenan retaliated against him after he complained that Keenan allegedly stole "hundreds of pounds of metal from Stratford."

The lawsuit is is captioned Andrew Marano v. Borough of Stratford, et al, Docket No. CAM-L-1577-16 and Marano's attorney is Leo B. Dubler III of Mount Laurel.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement's terms to others, including the media.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of the the lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Stratford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Marano $125,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Pennsauken quietly paid out $770,000 in 2006 to settle female police officer's sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit.

I normally do not post settlements of cases that are this old, but the size of the settlement, the nature of the allegations and the fact that the alleged sexual harasser has since been promoted to Police Captain and still serves in that position cause me to make an exception.

Pennsauken Police Officer Susan D. Holtz filed her sexual harassment civil lawsuit on June 4, 2003.  Holtz, who was hired as a patrol officer in 1990, said that she was "a very close friend of" Michael Probasco, who was then a patrolman, until she met her husband, Larry Holtz.  According to Holtz, her decision to cut off all personal interaction with Probasco so that she could "devote her entire romantic attention" to Larry Holtz "enraged Probasco" and resulted in Probasco spreading lies about her in order to sabotage her relationship with Larry.

After Probasco was promoted to sergeant, Holtz claimed that he used his position of command to try to get back into her personal life.  Holtz said that when she rebuffed him, Probasco retaliated by telling other officers that Holtz was a "bad cop" that should be avoided.  Holtz claimed that Probasco once came into the woman's locker room when she was wearing only a t-shirt and underwear.  She claimed that Probasco unzipped his pants to expose his erect penis and told her "I want you to suck this!"  Holtz related another incident when Probasco allegedly stared at her crotch while she was walking and told her "I can see the outline of your lips in those pants." 

According to Holtz's complaint, Probasco's harassment started in April 1994 and she felt uncomfortable in his presence through to her filing of the complaint.  She said that she was hesitant to report Probasco's "grotesque sexual advances" to upper management out of fear of retaliation because Police Chief John Coffey and Probasco "were best of friends."

Holtz's civil complaint contains many other allegations, only some of which are recounted here:

1. Probasco and other officers engaged in "outrageous fraud" by clocking in and the leaving their posts resulting in them getting paid for time that they did not work. 

2. After being interviewed by the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, which Holtz characterized as a "waste of her time" because the the questions "were phrased in a way as to hopefully solicit answers favorable to Probasco," her personal car was "'keyed' down to the metal on the driver's side."

3. Chief Coffey intervened in a matter in which the girlfriend of a Pennsauken officer had been arrested in Cherry Hill for buying drugs while driving the officer's car.  The officer's handgun was allegedly in the car at the time of her arrest.  Holtz alleged that Coffey's intervention caused the charges against the officer's girlfriend to be dismissed.

4. Coffey and Probasco allegedly wrote traffic tickets but destroy all the copies except for the one given to the municipal court.  This would cause those cited to have arrest warrants issued against them when they did not show up for court.

5. Holtz claimed that Probasco, after becoming a sergeant, began a relationship with a married Pennsauken police dispatcher who was later hired as a police officer.  Holtz claimed the dispatcher/officer, due to her sexual relationship with Probasco, received preferential treatment.

According to a March 8, 2018 letter from the Township Clerk, Probasco was hired on April 19, 1982 and presently serves as Police Captain earning $145,424 per year.

Holtz's lawsuit is is captioned Susan Holtz v. John Coffey, et al, Camden County Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-3284-03 and Holtz's attorney was Clifford Van Syoc of Cherry Hill.  Case documents are on-line here. Of the $770,000 settlement, Holtz received $520,000 and Van Syoc received $250,000.

Probasco was named in another lawsuit filed in 2004 by another female officer named Karen Denelsbeck.  Denelsbeck claimed that Probasco, who was then a lieutenant, made inappropriate comments regarding her pregnancy and repeatedly pestered her to go on dates with him.  Denelsbeck, who was married to a Evesham officer, said that sexually suggestive remarks made by Probasco caused her to be "embarrassed, upset and scared."  Her lawsuit, captioned, Karen Denelsbeck v. Michael Probasco, et al, Camden County Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-715-04 settled in 2005 for $36,750.  Denelsbeck's attorney was Anthony F. DiMento of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here.

Both settlement agreements contain confidentiality clauses which prevent the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement terms to others, including the media.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of the either lawsuits' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Pennsauken or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Holtz and Denelsbeck than take the matters to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Robbinsville quietly paid $100,000 to settle one claim arising out of cop's "psychotic episode" and is negotiating settlement of another.

At its January 11, 2018 meeting, the Robbinsville Township (Mercer County) Council approved a confidential $100,000 settlement to resolve a lawsuit filed by an in-home caregiver who said that a Township police sergeant "disrobed in [her clients'] apartment" and "began a violent and unprovoked attack" upon her, the disabled couple for whom she was working and the couple's four-year-old son.  The couple, who are both confined to wheelchairs, filed a separate lawsuit which, according to a March 1, 2018 e-mail from Robbinsville Municipal Clerk Michele Seigfried, has been resolved by a settlement agreement that is still in draft form and cannot be released.

The caregiver who filed suit is Bashemah Rountree and the accused police sergeant is Mark Lee who was, at the time of the September 17, 2012 incident, an 18-year veteran of the Robbinsville Police Department.  According to media reports, Lee allegedly broke into Rountree's clients' apartment, ripped off his clothes, knocked the disabled female client out of her wheelchair and assaulted the couple's child.  In her lawsuit, Rountree claimed that Lee threw her against a wall when she tried to protect the child from harm.  Another news source reported that Lee, after being taken into custody, kicked a window out of a police car and ran away only to be captured after a foot-chase.

According to a June 14, 2013 Times of Trenton article, aggravated assault, official misconduct and child endangerment charges against Lee were dropped conditioned upon Lee completing a three-year Pretrial Intervention (PTI) program.  As a further condition of being admitted to PTI, Lee had to forfeit his position as a police officer.

On May 18, 2016, Robbinsville paid $117,500 to settle a lawsuit filed by Lee that claimed that Township officials failed to accommodate a disability that caused him to suffer the "psychotic episode" that led to the assault.  Lee claimed that his conduct was the result of a physical disability which prosecutors reportedly said was calcium deposits on his brain.

$12,500 of the $117,500 settlement Robbinsville paid to Lee was held in escrow to pay toward settlements or judgments that the disabled couple, their child or Rountree sought from the Township.

Rountree's lawsuit is is captioned Rountree v. Township of Robbinsville, et al, Mercer County Superior Court Docket No. MER-L-1956-14 and Rountree's attorney was John G. Devlin of Lawrenceville.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement's terms to others, including the media.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of the the lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Robbinsville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Rountree $100,00 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Elizabeth paid out $250,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On November 13, 2017, the City Council of City of Elizabeth (Union County) resolved to pay $250,000 to settle a 2015 lawsuit filed by a Philadelphia man who claimed that several police officers beat him and that one officer "pressed his foot down on [his] face pushing it into the pavement."

In his suit, Jerome Wright claimed that he was driving in Elizabeth on June 26, 2013 when officers Rui Xavier and Luis Figueiredo pulled him over for a traffic stop.  Wright said that Xavier ordered him out of his car at gunpoint and arrested him.  He claimed that when he "made the reasonable request to know shy he was being placed under arrest," Figueiredo applied a "sustained spray" of Pepper Spray to his face.  Even though Wright said that he was submissive and compliant with the officers' commands, Xavier and Figueiredo both shot him "again in the face with a sustained burst of Pepper Spray from both sides at the same time."  Figueiredo then allegedly took Wright to the ground where Xavier kicked him in the ribs.  Wright said that the two officers then took turns pinning him to the ground with their knees while Xavier beat him with a flashlight or a nightstick. 

According to the lawsuit, Lieutenant Robert Keily, Sergeant Michael Niewinski and officers Michael Carreto and Guido Quelopana arrived on-scene.  The lieutenant and sergeant allegedly did nothing to stop Xavier's and Figueiredo's actions while Carreto and Quelopana reportedly "sprinted to join" Xavier and Figueiredo in their attack upon Wright.  Quelopana allegedly "placed his knee on the back of [Wright's] head and pushed his full weight down on [Wright's] skull while [he] laid face-down on the pavement."   According to the lawsuit, Carreto "proceeded to drop his entire weight down through one knee on to [Wright's] lower back" while another kicked Wright in the face, while Wright was handcuffed, "and pressed his foot down on [Wright's] face pushing it into the pavement."

The officers allegedly fabricated a police report to show that Wright resisted arrest and tried to elude police.

The case is captioned Wright v. City of Elizabeth, et al, Federal Case No. 2:153-cv-04429 and Wright's attorney was Michael Orozco of Woodcliff Lake.  Case documents are on-line here

None of Wright's allegations have been proven or disproven in court and settlement, without more, does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Elizabeth or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Elizabeth or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Wright $250,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Lindenwold Borough confidentially paid out $9,300 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On October 4, 2017, the Borough of Lindenwold (Camden County) quietly paid $9,300 to a woman who said that police roughed her up, false arrested her and humiliated her by groping and exposing her genitals and breasts in a public parking lot.

In her lawsuit, Ramona Berry, who at the time was 50, said that on September 12, 2014 she rode with her daughter Aisha to the location where Lindenwold police had detained her other daughter for a traffic stop.  She said that she identified herself as the detainee's mother and asked police what was going on.  Berry claimed that Patrolman Sean Williams screamed that if she didn't get back into Aisha's car she would be arrested.  Berry said that Williams was screaming in her ear as she was trying to open the car door at the same time that Aisha was trying to unlock it.  She said that after she gave up trying to open the car door, Williams "slammed her fifty-year-old body and head into a parked car, bent her over the car, handcuffed her violently, dragged and pushed her to a police car, tossed her roughly into the back of a police car, and violently shoved [her] legs into the car." 

When Berry arrived at the police station, Williams, in the station's parking lot and in full view of other officers who were shining flashlights on her, allegedly pulled her clothes and undergarments away from her body and exposed her breasts and genitals to the other officers.  She claimed that Williams' search "was conducted for the purpose of sexually humiliating and intimidating" her.  She alleged that she was put in a jail cell where she used the toilet without having been advised that a security camera was recording her.

Berry claimed that she was charged with obstructing Williams' investigation and for "body checking" Williams in the parking lot outside of the police station. She alleged that both charges were dismissed when videos of the parking lot encounter and her use of the toilet were produced.

The case is captioned Berry, et al v. Lindenwold Borough, et al, Federal Case No. 3:15-cv-08043 and Berry's attorney was Derek A. Steenson of Philadelphia.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement's terms to others, including the media.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of the the lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Lindenwold or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Berry $9,300 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Middlesex County paid out $20,000 to settle lawsuit filed by estate of 25-year-old woman who hanged herself in county jail.

On September 2, 2017, the County of Middlesex agreed to pay $20,000 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the estate of a 25-year-old Colonia woman who hanged herself on August 5, 2013 while an inmate in the Middlesex County Adult Correctional Facility.

In its complaint, the estate of Ashley Shubiger said that jail officials failed to protect the woman even though they knew or should have known that Shubiger "was a high risk of suicide" who "required one on one constant supervision." 

The case is captioned Shubiger v. Middlesex County, et al, Middlesex County Superior Court Docket No. MID-L-4696-15 and Shubiger's estate's attorney was Dean R. Maglione of Newark.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of the estate's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Middlesex or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the estate $20,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.