Monday, January 16, 2017

Fort Lee paid out $75,000 to settle false arrest case filed by man who possessed bath salts.

On September 22, 2016, the Borough of Fort Lee (Bergen County) paid $75,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a Bronx, New York man who claimed that he was jailed for three days because Fort Lee police "were unable or unwilling to differentiate between lawful and unlawful bath salts."

According to his lawsuit, Anthony Cordero Small said that he was a passenger in car that was pulled over by Fort Lee Police Officer Richard Hernandez at about 8:30 p.m. on October 28, 2013.  He said that he and other two occupants of the car were African Americans and that the basis of Hernandez's stop was "minor motor vehicle violations."  The lawsuit alleged that the trio were returning from a meeting with the producers of a popular VH1 television show who had agreed to feature Small's clothing line in upcoming episodes.  Officers Michael Ferraro and John Reuter arrived shortly afterward to provide back-up.

Small alleged that a video recording of the stop exists showing that all three occupants were removed from the vehicle and subjected to a lengthy roadside interrogation.  The lawsuit claimed that Hernandez, in addition to some unidentified red liquid, found a bag of bath salts in the car that he "mistakenly believed to be illegal bath salts."  Small said that he told Hernandez that his girlfriend had received the bag of bath salts at an NFL promotional event and that the salts were in their original packaging and labeled "Soak" which is a brand endorsed by many professional sports teams.

Small claimed that he and the other occupants were arrested and charged with CDS possession of bath salts.  Small said that he was held under $25,000 cash bail, with no ten percent option, which caused him to remain in jail until October 31, 2013.  He said that because of his confinement, he missed his meeting with VH1 officials which resulted in a decreased business opportunity.  He claimed that on November 19, 2013, the New Jersey State Police Laboratory determined that the bath salts were not a controlled dangerous substance--rather they were of "the type of legal and commonly available therapeutic bath salts people commonly use to mix in water when bathing."  All charges against him were reportedly dismissed.

Also named as a defendant was Fort Lee Police Chief Keith N. Bendul.

The case is captioned Small v. Borough of Fort Lee, et al, Federal Case No. 2:15-cv-05898 and Small's attorney was John E. Hogan of Woodbridge. Case documents are on-line here.

None of 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 Fort Lee or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Small $75,000 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, January 14, 2017

Elizabeth school board confidentially paid $75,000 to settle school residency investigator's discrimination lawsuit.

On December 15, 2016, the Elizabeth Board of Education (Union County) quietly paid $75,000 to settle a former employee's lawsuit that claimed that the Board refused to hire him, despite his qualifications, and instead hired "an individual of Hispanic ancestry" who had not even applied for the position.

In his suit, Martin P. Starr, a former police officer, said that he worked for eight years investigating whether students actually resided within the school district until his and the positions of five other investigators were terminated for budgetary reasons.  He claimed that school officials refused to remove some nonresident students that he found to be improperly enrolled "because these students were some of the more talented, either academically or athletically, ones in the District."

Later, he twice applied for a residency investigator position that the Board posted.  He claimed that his application was "not properly considered" and that the position was awarded to an Hispanic person who had not submitted an application for the position.

The case is captioned Starr and C.K. v. Elizabeth Township Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-3040-13 and UNN-L-4003-15 and Starr's attorney was Peter B. Linder of Edison.  Case documents are on-line here.

Also named as defendants in the matter were Acting Superintendent Pablo Muniz and personnel director Karen Murray.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  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 Starr'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 the Elizabeth school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Starr $75,000 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 12, 2017

New Jersey Assemblyman receives $50,000 settlement.

A State Assemblyman's 2014 lawsuit against a Washington Township (Gloucester County) patrol officer was settled on September 27, 2016 for $50,000.

In a case that has received substantial media coverageAssemblyman Paul D. Moriarty sued Washington Township and Patrol Officer Joseph DiBuonaventura for wrongly stopping his car and arresting him for drunk driving on July 31, 2012.  The drunk driving charge was later dropped by the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office.

DiBuonaventura was tried to a jury on fourteen counts of false swearing, false reporting, tampering nd official misconduct.  He was acquitted on all charges on March 3, 2015.

Moriarity's lawsuit against the Township and against DiBuonaventura in his official capacity was dismissed on March 30, 2015 leaving him to pursue claims against DiBuonaventura in his personal capacity.  It is unclear whether the $50,000 was paid for by DiBuonaventura, Washington Township or the Township's insurance carrier.

The case is captioned Moriarty v. DiBuonaventura, Federal Case No. 1:14-cv-02492 and Moriarty's attorney was William C. Popjoy, III of Woodbury. Case documents are on-line here.

None of 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 the defendant(s), for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Moriarty $50,000 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.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Bound Brook Board of Ed entered into three confidential employee separation agreements during 2016.

During 2016, the Bound Brook Board of Education (Somerset County) entered into confidential separation agreements with at least three employees.  Two of the agreements were to settle "pending personnel matters" and one was to settle "pending tenure charges."

The tenure charge matter involved School Psychologist Gladys Portacio who agreed to resign effective August 31, 2016. The agreement did not call for Portacio to receive any money and did not specify the nature of the conduct underlying the tenure charges.  An Open Public Records Act (OPRA) has been filed for the tenure charges and this article will be updated with the results of that settlement.

Nearly identical agreements were also signed by Director of Building and Grounds Raul Nieves and Director of Technology Leo Dreitser who, respectively, resigned on March 31, 2016 and June 30, 2016.  Both agreements resolved undefined "pending personnel matters" and Nieves received $12,284.71 accrued sick and vacation time under the agreement.

Both Nieves' and Dreitser's agreements had text redacted from them that stated: "The Board agrees that any [redacted] records or notes relating to [redacted] will be kept out of his School District personnel file(s)."  The reason given for the redactions was "Confidential Personnel Information, N.J.S.A. 47:1A-10."

Each agreement contained a confidentiality clause that prevents the parties from disclosing it.  Fortunately, OPRA trumps such clauses.

Woodbridge confidentially paid out $125,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On October 25, 2016, the Township of Woodbridge (Middlesex County) quietly paid $125,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a local man who claimed that he lost several of his front teeth after police smashed him in the face with a flashlight.

According to his lawsuit, Jeffrey Gutierrez said that he was at the Friday's restaurant on Gills Lane on December 9, 2011 when police arrived in response to a call about a person with a knife.  According to Gutierrez, he was at the bar with his brother Jorge when police searched him for the knife and, after not finding one, pushed him to the ground and hit him in the face with a flashlight.  Police took him to police headquarters where he was processed and released.  Named in the lawsuit were officers Michael Agosta, Matthew Carney, Michael Dellisanti, Brian McGuirk, Lukasz Pepkowski, Daniel Perovic, Adrian Valentino, Brett Wider and Matthew Herbert.  Also named were Police Director Robert Hubner and Captain Roy Hoppock.

The case is captioned Gutierrez v. Township of Woodbridge, et al, Federal Case No. 2:13-cv-01937 and Gutierrez's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold. Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  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 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 Woodbridge or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Gutierrez $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.

Rahway confidentially paid out $150,000 to settle high school athletic director's malicious prosecution lawsuit.

On December 22, 2016, the City of Rahway (Union County) quietly paid $150,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the Rahway High School Athletic Director who said that he was falsely charged with a crime because of Police Chief John Rodger's "personal animus" against him.  The athletic director claimed that his rejection of the Chief's attempts to hire more police officers to provide security at high school sporting events was the basis for the Chief's animus.

According to his lawsuit, Thomas Lewis, who worked for the Rahway school district for over 40 years and who also serves a member of the Clark Board of Education, said that he was falsely arrested on December 28, 2014 for pushing a police officer outside the Rahway High School gymnasium after a basketball tournament.  Lewis claimed that after he attempted to diffuse a tense situation caused by an unruly fan, Officer Justyna Halat misread the situation and inappropriately intervened.  Lewis claimed that although eyewitnesses and security camera footage confirmed that he he did not assault Halat, Lieutenant Charles Sabba fed a false report up the chain of command that led to Captain Joseph Simonetti directing that Lewis be arrested and charged with aggravated assault.  Lewis claimed that police officials refused to interview witnesses that would have said "that the charge against Lewis was demonstrably false" and sought to "influence and intimidate witnesses to provide incriminating evidence against" Lewis.

According to the lawsuit, the Union County Prosecutor's Office voluntarily dismissed the charge against Lewis on March 2, 2015.

Also named in the lawsuit were Detective Sergeant Richard Long, Detective Shawn Ganley and Officers Scott Maloney and Joseph Kostick.

The case is captioned Lewis v. City of Rahway, et al, Federal Case No. 2:15-cv-08880 and Lewis's attorneys were Kevin H. Marino and John A. Boyle of Chatham. Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  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 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 Rahway or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lewis $150,000 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, January 10, 2017

Guttenberg confidentially paid out $39,900 to settle aspiring cop's retaliation lawsuit.

On December 19, 2016, the Town of Guttenberg (Hudson County) quietly agreed to pay $39,900 to settle a lawsuit filed by an aspiring Baltimore police officer who claimed that he subjected to retaliatory criminal charges after his sister broke off a dating relationship with a Guttenberg police officer.

According to his lawsuit, Brian Dorador, who was about to be hired by the Baltimore police department, fell out of favor with members of the Guttenberg Police Department after his sister broke off a dating relationship with Officer Joseph Keselica.  According his lawsuit, "Officer Keselica resented Mr. Dorador for the break up with his sister and held a personal vendetta against him."  Dorador claimed that Officer Laura Sorio told him in early August 2011 that Keselica "was planning a scheme to set up Mr. Dorador and arrest him for impersonating a police officer and carrying a weapon."  Dorador claimed that Sorio later denied telling him this.

Fearing that an arrest would derail his police career, Dorador said that he reported the threat to Captain Joel Magenheimer.  Dorador claimed that after Magenheimer refused to process his complaint, he filed an Internal Affairs complaint with the New York Police Department where Dorador worked as an auxiliary officer.  When the NYPD notified the Guttenberg department about the complaint, Dorador claimed that retaliatory criminal charges were fabricated against him resulting in his arrest on August 15, 2011.  Dorador claimed that weapon possession charges were dismissed by the Hudson County Prosecutor and he was approved for Pretrial Intervention (PTI) for other charges over the Prosecutor's objection.

Dorador also claimed that a deliberately false report that he was armed and dangerous caused him to be pulled over by West New York officers on October 13, 2011 and that his father received "an excessive amount of tickets only a few days before [Dorador] was to be accepted into the PTI program." 

Also named in the lawsuit were Sergeants Jeff Lugo and Juan Berrera and Investigator Joseph Terello

The case is captioned Dorador v. Town of Guttenberg, et al, Federal Case No. 2:13-cv-05696 and Dorador's attorney was Louis A. Zayas of North Bergen. Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  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 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 Guttenberg or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Dorador $39,900 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.