Saturday, August 20, 2016

$250,000 paid to settle excessive force lawsuit against Vineland police.

On July 25, 2016, a handwritten settlement agreement was drawn up calling for a $250,000 settlement payment to be made to a Pittsgrove man who sued Vineland (Cumberland County) Police for allegedly beating him into unconsciousness and recklessly driving him around unrestrained causing him to bounce around inside the police car and injure himself.

In his lawsuit, John Panarello, said that he and his wife Sheri had an acrimonious relationship with their next door neighbors, Antonio and Jeanne Ramos, mostly concerning the boundary line between their adjacent properties.  Antonio Ramos was employed by the City of Vineland as a police detective. 

An argument erupted on February 11, 2010 during which Ramos allegedly told Panarello that he would get the "brotherhood" of Vineland officers to retaliate against him. This comment caused Panarello to file an Internal Affairs complaint against Ramos which Panarello said resulted in Ramos being disciplined.

The bickering ensued until July 10, 2010 when Sergeant William Bontcue came to Panarello's home to speak to him about his alleged harassment of Ramos.  Panarello claimed that Bontcue was aggressive, slapped a video camera out of Panarello's hand, shoved him and told him that if he bothered Ramos again, he would be arrested and "taught a lesson."

The same day, according to the civil complaint, Panarello was weed-whacking along his privacy fence that bordered Ramos' property.  This irritated Ramos who allegedly responded by squirting Panarello in the face with a garden hose.  According to Panarello, the water in the hose was very hot from sitting in the sun and burned his face.  The two then got into a struggle which resulted in Panarello retreating to his house to call police.

At the same time, Ramos' wife, Jeanne, called police and reported that Panarello attacked her husband with a 2 x 6.  Panarello maintained that he only used the wood to block the water stream from Ramos' hose.  Sergeant Jeffrey Riggione, in response to Jeanne's call, "ordered all available police units to the Ramos property."  The following officers responded: Adam Shaw, Matthew Laielli, Antonio Ramos, Diane Fava, William Newman, Chris Rodriquez, Jeffrey Riggione, Brian Armstrong, Stephen Houbary and Adam Austino.

Laielli, Shaw and Armstrong allegedly entered Panarello's house held him down on his dining room floor and "beat [him] about the face and head with closed fists until [he] was unconscious."  The alleged beating was done in the presence of Panarello's wife Sheri and their seven year old daughter Angelina.

According to newspaper accounts, Armstrong, who drove Panarello to the police station, placed him in an unrestrained cruiser that "stopped and accelerated abruptly" to cause Panarello additional injuries.  Panarello also accused Officer James H. Day of pepper-spraying him in the face while he was handcuffed at the police station.

On February 8, 2016 and July 7, 2016, United States District Court Judge Robert B. Kugler dismissed many of Panarello's claims and dismissed several defendants from the suit. However, warrantless arrest and entry charges against Laielli and Shaw survived Kugler's dismissal orders as excessive force claims against Armstrong and Day and assault and battery claims against Ramos.

The case is captioned Panarello v. City of Vineland, et al, Federal Case No. 1:12-cv-04165 and Panarello's attorney was Louis P. McFadden, Jr. of Northfield.  The complaint is on-line here and the settlement agreement is on-line here.

It is presently unknown how much of the $250,000 settlement was underwritten by Vineland and how much, if any, was paid by Ramos.

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 Vineland or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Panarello $250,000 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.

Manasquan Borough confidentially paid out $87,500 to settle former Code Enforcement Supervisor's wrongful discharge lawsuit.

On May 6, 2016, the Borough of Manasquan (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $87,500 to its former Code Enforcement Supervisor who said that he was fired for not yielding to the former mayor's pressure to refrain from enforcing the code against various people including the daughter of the mayor's friend.

In his lawsuit, Patrick J. Callahan, said that then Mayor George Dempsey pressured him to not enforce the building and municipal codes against Borough residents.  When he refused to back down, Dempsey, along with present Borough Administrator Joseph DiIorio, allegedly retaliated against him by berating and humiliating him, undermining him with residents, employees and contractors and restructuring his hours to prevent him from doing part time inspection work for Sea Girt and Brielle.  He said that Dempsey and DiIorio increased his workload to "set him up to fail."  He said that he was fired in August 2013 and lost his pension because he was not yet vested.

The case is captioned Callahan v. Borough of Manasquan, et al, Monmouth County Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-3847-13 and Callahan's attorney was Maurice W. McLaughlin of Totowa.  Case documents are on-line here and the lawsuit exhibits 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 Manasquan or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Callahan $87,500 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.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Atlantic City to confidentially pay $75,000 to man who said that city police "brutally beat" him.

On August 17, 2016, the Atlantic City (Atlantic County) Council, by a 7 to 2 vote, approved a $75,000 settlement to resolve a lawsuit brought by an Essex County man who said that he was beaten and falsely arrested by police after a bouncer removed him from a casino nightclub.

In his lawsuit, Anthony Bocchino said that on August 12, 2012 he was removed from Harrah's Pool After Dark nightclub "after a nonviolent word exchange with a bouncer."  He said that he then encountered officers Donnell Holland and James Mittenberger who "brutally beat" him and "falsely charged him with aggravated assault."

The case is captioned Bocchino v. City of Atlantic City, et al Federal Case No. 14-cv-00233 and Bocchino's attorney was Timothy J. McIlwain of Linwood.  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 Atlantic City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Bocchino $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.

East Orange confidentially paid out $16,000 to man who said that city police attacked him for no reason and then let him go.

On July 27, 2016, the City of East Orange (Essex County) agreed to pay $16,000 to a man who said that after police hit him in the eye for no reason, they told him "that he should have stayed in Brooklyn."

In his lawsuit, Richard Bennett alleged that he was walking down the street when Officer Damon Johnson and/or Detective Himonshu Antala "without provocation and without warning" hit him in the face with a hard object which knocked him down and caused him to "bleed profusely from his left eye."

After the officers handcuffed Bennett, a Domino's Pizza employee allegedly vouched for Bennett's innocence which convinced the officers to remove Bennett's handcuffs and set him free.  An ambulance was called and Detective Epifenio Mendez and Sergeants Reginald Butts and James W. Pitts arrived on the scene.

Bennett said that the police ran his identification and it came back clean. It was at that time that Bennett told police that he had recently moved to the neighborhood from Brooklyn and that police allegedly responded that he should have stayed there and "should not have come to New Jersey."

Bennett said that the police tried to intimidate him and decided not to file a report of the encounter in order to make it more difficult for him to litigate.

The case is captioned Bennett, et al v City of East Orange, et al Federal Case No. 2:11-cv-00359 and Bennett's attorney was Adana U. Ugwonali of Newark.  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 East Orange or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Bennett $16,000 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, August 17, 2016

Camden County confidentially paid out $5,000 of a total of $14,500 to settle man's claim that he was wrongly charged and ejected from a Toby Keith concert.

On August 7, 2016, the County of Camden agreed to pay $5,000 to a Philadelphia man who said that he was wrongfully charged for disorderly conduct and ejected from a June 22, 2013 Toby Keith concert at the Susquehanna Bank Center.

In his lawsuit, Jeremy Dale Bland alleged that after he "completed his task" and returned to his seat, he was seized and assaulted by security personnel from "Live Nation and/or Susquehanna and/or [National Event Services]" while Sheriff's Officer Sharon Grate-Hameen observed and allegedly "failed to intervene and stop the vicious, brutal and unprovoked assault."  He claimed that Grate-Hameen charged him with Disorderly Conduct and assisted in ejecting him from the facility.

The case is captioned Bland, et al v County of Camden, et al Federal Case No. 15-cv-04144 and Bland's attorney was Christopher K. Koutsouris of Forked River.  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 Camden or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Bland $5,000 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.

Stafford Township confidentially paid out $34,000 to settle man's lawsuit claiming that mayor misused Stafford Police to perpetrate a personal vendetta against him.

On June 13, 2016, the Township of Stafford (Ocean County) agreed to pay $34,000 to a man who claimed that Mayor John Spodofora used "the Stafford Police as his personal agents" to retaliate against him for publicly criticizing Spodofora for "stolen valor" (i.e. exaggeration of military service).

In his lawsuit, Earl Galloway, a retired Navy Master Chief, said that after he created a spoof Facebook page called "Spodophony" which contained "accurate information to correct [Spodofora's] exaggerations and fabrications" regarding his service in the Vietnam conflict, Spodofora filed an identify theft charge against him, attempted to block Galloway's membership into the Stafford GOP club and publicly accused him of "hacking into [Spodofora's] child's computer and stealing files."

Galloway's lawsuit also claimed that Stafford police released his phone number, date of birth and social security number to the Asbury Park Press which subsequently published this confidential information.

Also named in the suit was Stafford Police Chief Joseph Giberson.

The case is captioned Galloway v. Stafford, Essex County Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-1146-15 and Galloway's attorneys were Joshua S. Bauchner and Michael H. Ansell of Woodland Park.  Case documents are on-line here and the lawsuit exhibits 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 Stafford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Galloway $34,000 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, August 16, 2016

Irvington Township to confidentially pay $10,000 to settle false arrest and malicious prosecution lawsuit.

Police Director Tracy Bowers
On August 1, 2016, Irvington Township (Essex County) produced a draft agreement that calls for $10,000 to be paid to a local man who claimed that he was falsely arrested for crimes including homicide and held under $2,000,000 bail "without a 10% cash alternative."

Richard Etienne's lawsuit give little detail of the events surrounding his arrest.  It discloses only that allegedly "false charges" were brought against Etienne on August 4, 2013 by Irvington Detective Shaun Green and a man named Joseph DeMarco whose relationship to Etienne, Green or Irvington is not disclosed.  Etienne claimed that all the charges brought against him were "terminated favorably" to him.

The case is captioned Etienne v. Irvington Township, Federal Case No. 2:15-cv-08948 and Etienne's attorney was Rhea Moore of East Orange.  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 Etienne'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 Irvington or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Etienne $10,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the 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.

Note: The court marked the case as having settled.  While it is possible that a dispute will arise prior to the settlement agreement being signed by the Township, this rarely happens because the settlement has been negotiated and agreed to by all the parties.  Readers who wish to be absolutely sure that this case settled according to the terms stated above should submit an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the final, signed settlement agreement.