Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Middlesex County pays $325,000 to settle man's estate's wrongful death suit against jail guards.

On October 8, 2014, the County of Middlesex agreed to pay $325,000 to the estate of a man who died while in custody at the County's Correctional Facility.

The lawsuit was brought by Lena Delgado de Torres, the personal representative of the Estate of Humberto Alfonso.  Alfonso was a pre-trial detainee who died on February 28, 2011 while in custody at the Middlesex County Correctional Facility.  According to the complaint, jail officers attempted to handcuff Alfonso to move him from his jail cell to the medical area.  Alfonso's alleged refusal to fully comply with the officers resulted in a physical altercation involving Alfonso and several corrections officers.  The lawsuit states that Alfonso was pepper-sprayed after having been handcuffed and placed in a "restraint chair."  When a nurse saw that he was unresponsive, Alfonso was moved to a stretcher and died after cardio-pulmonary resuscitation efforts failed.  The lawsuit states that Alfonso's autopsy revealed that the pepper spray was the proximate cause of his death.

The corrections officers were identified only by their last names: Knight, Poulson, Castro, Estevez, Ortega, Christiansen and Szumowski.  They, along with Warden Edmond C. Cicchi, were identified in the settlement agreement as "non-settling defendants."

The case is captioned the Estate of Alfonso v. Middlesex County, Federal Case No. 3:12-cv-01227 and the Estate's attorney was Lennox S. Hinds of Somerset and New York.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of the Estate's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $325,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Middlesex or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Middlesex or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Estate $325,000 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.

North Haledon secretly pays $16,000 to settle police illegal stop and search lawsuit.

On June 11, 2012, the Borough of North Haledon (Passaic County) agreed to pay $16,000 to four Wayne men who sued members of the North Haledon Police Department for allegedly stopping, searching and detaining them without probable cause.

In their suit, Anthony Terrana, Nicholas Terrana, Antonio Terrana and Antonio Amabile claimed that on July 15, 2009 the car in which they were travelling was illegally stopped by Officer Michael Cedar.  They allege that they were all ordered out of the car by Cedar, Officer Dean Fusco, Sergeant Marc Rowe and Lieutenant Todd Darby.  They claim that the officers illegally searched them, seized their cell phones and wallets and subjected them to "abusive language and intimidation."  Eventually, they claim, the officers told them that they were free to go.

The case is captioned Terrana, et al v. North Haledon, Docket No. PAS-L-2563-10 and the men's  attorney was Raymond P. Vivino of Wayne.  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 the men's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $16,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by North Haledon or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that North Haledon or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the men $16,000 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.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Plainfield pays $145,000 to secretly settle Police Aide's racial discrimination/hostile work environment lawsuit.

On April 24, 2014, the City of Plainfield (Union County) agreed to pay $145,000 to a Police Aide who sued a Plainfield Police lieutenant for retaliating and racially discriminating against her.

In her suit, Sharon Williams claimed that Lieutenant Jeffrey Plum suspended her for refusing to obey orders that Williams claimed violated established rules and guidelines.  Williams, who is African-American, claimed that Plum, who is white, "constantly inject[ed] himself into [her] business and job when he has no need or right to" and filed false disciplinary charges against her.  She said that he didn't conduct himself in the same way toward white employees.

The case is captioned Williams v. Plainfield, Docket No. UNN-L-4536-11 and Williams's attorney was Lawrence N. Lavigne of Union. Case documents are on-line here.

None of the Williams's have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $145,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Plainfield or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Plainfield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay him $145,000 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.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Hillside pays $450,000 to settle police chief's whistleblower suit

On October 28, 2013, the Township of Hillside (Union County) agreed to pay $450,000 to a its retired police chief who sued the Township and Mayor for allegedly retaliating against him.

In his suit, Robert Quinlan listed a litany of allegations against the Township and Mayor Joseph Menza including Menza's alleged attempt to interfere with a summons issued to a "Christie for Governor" sound truck, Menza's alleged opposition to Quinlan's promotion of an African-American female police officer and Menza's alleged improper involvement in a matter involving the Superintendent of Public Works being "probably drunk" at a Linden tavern with a Township vehicle.

The case is captioned Quinlan v. Hillside, et al, Docket No. UNN-L-618-12 and Quinlan's attorney was Damian Christian Shammas of Morristown.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Quinlan's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $450,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Hillside or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Hillside or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Quinlan $450,000 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.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Howell pays $15,000 to settle police excessive force suit.

On December 10, 2013, the Township of Howell (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $15,000 to a Toms River man who sued a Howell Police Officer for injuring him when he was placed in a squad car.

In his suit, Douglas Kessel, vaguely claims that on January 15, 2009, an officer identified as "John Doe, Badge No. 189" "placed [him] in a the back of a squad car and . . . caused [him] to sustain severe, serious and permanent injuries."

The case is captioned Kessel v. Howell, Docket No. MON-L-2815-10 and Kessel's attorney was Richard B. Stone of Neptune. Case documents are on-line here.

None of the Kessel's have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $15,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Howell or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Howell or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay him $15,000 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, November 13, 2014

Margate settles Clerk's Whistleblower suit: Clerk to retire and get $284,000, with lawyer to get $50,000.

On November 6, 2014, the City of Margate (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $334,000 to its longtime municipal clerk and his lawyer to settle a whistleblower suit he filed against the City after he was allegedly retaliated against for reporting illegal conduct by a Margate elected official.

In his suit, Thomas Hiltner, who has worked for the City since 1986, said that in 2011, he and City Chief Financial Officer Lisa McLaughlin compared proposals from two accounting firms--Bowman & Company and Ford Scott Accountants--and recommended the Bowman firm due in part to that firm being 7% less expensive than Ford Scott.  Hiltner claimed that he learned in August 2011 that Commissioner Brenda Taube opposed the recommendation based on the Ford Scott Accounting firm's alleged "help and assistance 'to the Commissioner's ticket' throughout her campaign."

Hiltner claimed that he reported Taube's position to his immediate supervisor as well as to the police because he believed that "the award of a public contract based upon a vendor currying favor with a candidate was the precise type of "contribution' outlawed by New Jersey law."  Hiltner also alleged that in his subsequent conversation with Mayor Michael Becker, Becker "confessed and responded that regardless of the request for proposal process, Ford Scott was getting the contract."

According to the lawsuit, Hiltner's reporting of Taube precipitated "the most aggressive and continuous campaign of retaliatory action [he] has ever experienced in over a quarter of a century of public service" at the hands of Taube and Becker.  Among the retaliatory acts, Hiltner claimed that he was stripped of his duty as beach badge sales supervisor and the $5,000 stipend that went with it.  Also, Hiltner alleged that City officials "manufactured verba1 and written reprimands against [him], allegations of [his] violation of the City's vacation and sick time policy [and] allegations of [his] failure to follow the Family Medical Leave Act policy."

The case is captioned Hiltner v. Margate, Docket No. ATL-L-3105-12 and Hiltner's attorney was Louis M. Barbone of Atlantic City.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Hiltner's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $334,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Margate or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Margate or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Hiltner $334,000 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.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Belvidere pays $45,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit.

On September 11, 2014, the Town of Belvidere (Warren County) agreed to pay $45,000 to a local woman who sued members of the Belvidere Police Department for allegedly assaulting and falsely arresting her.

In her suit, Lisa Patton said that on February 10, 2011, her daughter called police after the mother and daughter had an argument over proper dosage of the daughter's prescription medicine.  According to the complaint, Patton's daughter had substance abuse issues and wanted to ingest more of the medicine than prescribed and Patton wished to limit her daughter's medication intake to the prescribed dose.  Belvidere police officers Matthew Scott and Frank Tootle, III went to the family home and both Patton and her son told them that the daughter had already had her prescribed dose that day.

According to the complaint, both officers then left the residence and "attempted to find a criminal violation with which to charge" Patton. They returned a short time later and, allegedly without a search or arrest warrant, entered Patton's home and ordered Patton to give her daughter the medication.  After the daughter reached into Patton's pocket and removed the medication, the daughter was allegedly asked by the police to leave the residence.  Thereafter, Patton alleged that she "tapped [Tootle] on the shoulder."  Scott allegedly grabbed her by the wrists and Tootle elbowed her in the hip and face.  She was then arrested for assaulting a police officer, dragged from her home in her bathrobe and handcuffed to a wall at the Warren County Jail.

The case is captioned Patton v. Belvidere, Docket No. WAR-L-521-11 and Patton's attorney was Robert C. Woodruff of Morristown.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Patton's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $45,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Belvidere or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Belvidere or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Patton $45,000 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.