Tuesday, December 30, 2008

East Brunswick settles police abuse and racial discrimination suit for $10,000

On September 8, 2008, East Brunswick Township and Board of Education officials agreed to pay a former East Brunswick High School student $10,000 to settle his federal civil rights lawsuit.
According to his lawsuit, High School senior Herbert Stevenson was sent to the principal's office on May 24, 2005 after having had an argument with another student. Stevenson alleges that he and the other student were sitting next to each other, attempting to work out their differences, when East Brunswick Police Officer Donald Carruth came into the room with another officer--Anita Conway--and told Stevenson to move one seat further away from where the other student was seated.

When Stevenson didn't follow Carruth's order, Carruth allegedly told him to that he would be arrested "if he didn’t shut up." When Stevenson questioned Carruth's order, Carruth allegedly "grabbed [Stevenson] by the right arm and repeatedly slammed [him] against a metal filing cabinet . . . told [him] he was under arrest, and tightly handcuffed him, and pulled him out of the school building."

While all of this happened, Officer Conway, Vice Principal Michael Vinella and a school staff member referred to as Borden allegedly "observed these violations of {Stevenson's] person and rights, but did nothing to prevent or protest them." After Carruth took Stevenson outside, he allegedly "slammed his body against the
police car," went through his pockets, asked him where he was born and then released him.

Stevenson claimed that his encounter with Officer Carruth caused him to sustain "physical injuries and [to be] emotionally traumatized." Stevenson, who is of West African national origin, also claimed that the defendants' conduct was racially motivated.

Stevenson's lawsuit and the settlement agreement are on-line here.

Stevenson was represented in the suit by Lennox S. Hinds, Esq. of Somerset, New Jersey.

The $10,000, which was paid by the Township's insurer, was full settlement of all the damages claimed, including Stevenson's attorney fees. The agreement specifically refers to Officers Carruth and Conway as being "non-settling defendants" and states that the officers, as well as the other defendants, do not admit any liability or wrongdoing of any kind.

All that is known for sure is that the Township and school board and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Stevenson $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 Stevenson's claims were true and the Township and board 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.

ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS.

I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Sometimes I run across settlements that may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. For more information on the Libertarian Party, visit www.njlp.org

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey