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

Mount Holly settles retaliation and racial discrimination suit for $75,000

In September 2008, Mount Holly Township officials agreed to pay a local couple $75,000 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit that originated from the Township's attempt to make the couple fix a crumbling sidewalk adjacent to their Garden Street home. At the bottom of this posting is a September 20, 2006 Burlington County Times article that provides background on this case.

The settlement agreement, entered into by the Township with Andrew and Alda Copeland, requires all parties to keep the settlement terms confidential. The agreement specifically called for the Copelands to "not take any action to affirmatively notify the news media of the resolution of this action."

The civil complaint and the confidential settlement agreement, which I received after filing an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, are on-line here.

The settlement agreement expressly states that the $75,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Township or any of its officers or employees. All that is known for sure is that the Township and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the Copelands and their lawyer $75,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the Township's 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 Copelands' claims were true and the Township 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, click here.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

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A partial concrete victory Judge chastises Mt. Holly for criminalizing sidewalk repair case

Burlington County Times (Willingboro, NJ) - Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Author: Lauri Sheibley BCT staff writer lsheibley@phillyBurbs.com

MOUNT HOLLY -- A Mount Holly couple has been fighting the township for a year over who is responsible for repairing a buckling sidewalk along Clover Street adjacent to their home.

Last week, they won part of the battle.

A state Superior Court judge dismissed a citation filed by the township against Andrew and Alda Copeland. The township had filed the citation last September, saying the sidewalk adjacent to the Copelands' home is a safety hazard.

The Copelands live at the corner of Garden and Clover streets. They argued that the sidewalk is on public property and therefore the township should fix it. The Copelands appealed the citation and took the matter to state Superior Court.

Last week, Judge Harold B. Wells III said it was not appropriate for the township to pursue the matter in municipal court.

"The whole notion of compelling a private citizen to repair public property by quasi-criminal process is simply repugnant," Wells stated in his decision.

The Copelands consider the decision a victory.

"I think it is an enormous thing to have happen," Alda Copeland said. "I think it sets a precedent."

However, the Copelands are not yet off the hook.

Township attorney Brian Guest said the judge ruled only that the township was wrong to take the matter to municipal court. Guest said the couple are still responsible for fixing the sidewalk. He said township code requires residents to pay for sidewalk and curb repairs and sewer and water line extensions even if the problems are not on their property.

"It is a very common procedure," Guest said.

Guest said the township has two options. It can file a civil suit against the Copelands to compel them to repair the sidewalk, or it can repair the sidewalk itself and put a lien against the Copelands' property for the cost of that work.

Guest said he did not know which option the township would choose. Neither the township manager nor the mayor could be reached for comment yesterday.

The Copelands believe the township ordinance is unfair, and have collected the signatures of 75 neighbors who agree with them.

Alda Copeland said it would cost the couple thousands of dollars to repair the crumbling sidewalk.

"The cost is not a small amount of money," she said

The Copelands say the sidewalk was in bad shape before they moved there seven years ago. They say township dump trucks have driven over the edge of the sidewalk, causing even more damage.

The Copelands did not hire a lawyer to defend themselves. They had taken a political-science course at Burlington County College, and relied on their knowledge of the U.S. Constitution to argue in court.

If the township decides to file a civil suit, Alda Copeland said she will continue to protest what she considers an unfair ordinance.

"I'm more than happy to go again, if that's what they want," Copeland said, but she added she hopes the township just drops the matter and fixes the sidewalk.

"The money they are wasting on the attorney, maybe they should use that money to fix the sidewalk," she said. "It would be better spent."

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Lindenwold, New Jersey Man Gets $30k Settlement After Voorhees Traffic Stop

In an agreement reached on July 9, 2008, Voorhees Township and its insurance carrier agreed to pay a Lindenwold man $29,973.75 to settle a civil case that arose out of the man's encounter with Voorhees Police on September 16, 2005. Of the $29,973.75 settlement amount, $10,000 went to the man, Maurice T. Henderson, and $19,973.75 went to Henderson's attorney, Kenneth D. Aita of Haddon Heights.

According to Henderson's complaint, he was returning home from work after a night shift and was lawfully driving 25 mph in a 40 mph zone on White Horse Road, when Voorhees Patrolman Lance Klein "noticed that [he] was a black male" made a U-Turn and pulled him over and asked for his documents. Henderson claimed that after asking Lance why he was being pulled over, Lance "rudely responded that if [Henderson] did not provide the documentation he, would 'lock him up' for obstruction of justice."

Henderson claims that after hearing this, he became fearful and asked to speak to Klein's supervisor. According to the complaint, Klein's supervisor, Sergeant Gerald Slack, came on scene a few minutes later and also told Henderson that "he better provide the information to Klein or they both would lock him up, for obstruction of justice." Henderson claims that he was fearful for his safety, so he phoned the 911 operator a total of six times from his cell phone. The 911 dispatcher told him to go to the police station to file a complaint against the officers.

After receiving two traffic tickets, Henderson said that while leaving the scene, he "yelled, 'crackers' at the officers to express his displeasure with their behavior." Upon hearing the remark, the police gave chase, pulled Henderson over, handcuffed him and arrested him for eluding police. During this encounter, Henderson's pants were allegedly pulled down "and his buttocks and penis were exposed to the officers." One of the officers reported said to him "don't look at me boy, you don't want a piece of me."

On, October 26, 2005, Henderson appeared for a pre-indictment conference before Judge Snyder in Camden County Superior Court. Judge Snyder reportedly dismissed all the charges, including the traffic tickets, but Henderson pleaded guilty to one "disorderly persons offense, for not immediately producing his license when officer Klein requested him to do so."

Henderson's civil complaint and the settlement release are on-line at
http://www.lpcnj.org/OGTF/VoorheesHenderson.pdf

John Paff, Chair
New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project
www.njlp.org

Union County pays $130,000 to family of man who died in jail

In October 2008, Union County, New Jersey paid $130,000 to the mother of a Newark man who died in a Union County jail cell in 2005. Also, an August 28, 2008 letter indicates that Correctional Health Services, a private company that provides inmate health services, may have also paid $130,000 as settlement. And, it is unknown whether a third defendant, Nursefinders, Inc. contributed to the settlement. (Since Correctional Health Services and Nursefinders, Inc. are private companies, they are not subject to open public records laws.)

The settlement agreement and the August 28, 2008 letter are on-line at:

http://www.lpcnj.org/OGTF/UnionDavis.pdf

At the end of this posting is a Star Ledger article that gives more information on incident underlying the lawsuit.

The settlement agreement expressly states that the $130,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the County or any of its officers or employees. All that is known for sure is that the County and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the Davis family and its lawyer $130,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the County's 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 Davis family's claims were true and the County 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

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County faces $10 million lawsuit in jail death - Man accused of stealing shirt died from an untreated stomach infection

Star-Ledger, The (Newark, NJ) - Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Author: JUDITH LUCAS, STAR-LEDGER STAFF

Donald Davis was arrested and locked up at the Union County Jail on Oct. 25 for stealing an undershirt from a store in Elizabeth.

Five days later, the 44-year-old man from Newark was found dead in his cell, from an untreated stomach infection - peritonitis.

His grieving mother, Vernita Davis , said her son tried to explain to prison guards his need for life-sustaining medication, but they swore at him and ignored his pleas.

Yesterday, she gave notice to the Union County Sheriff's Department and Union County that she planned to sue them for $10 million in a wrongful death claim.

"My son should not have needlessly died over a charge of petty shoplifting," said Vernita Davis .

"In effect, he got a death sentence for petty disorderly theft," said Anthony Macri, the attorney hired to represent the Donald Davis estate.

Vernita Davis said her son died a slow, painful death that could have been avoided.

"I know from having spoken to people who were in the jail that he was crying out, yelling out in pain during this time and that the guards responded to his yelling out with pain with expletives," she said. "I find that outrageous."

Union County refused to comment on the case, said spokesman Sebastian D'Elia.

But county officials will eventually have to answer the charges.

Macri said his client died because his jailers deprived him of medical treatment. When Donald Davis was arrested, he was only days out of Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, where he was treated for a perforated gastric ulcer. Macri said Donald Davis told the guards of his ailments.

"We are alleging that as a result of their failure to give him treatment for five days, that led to this peritonitis and that was what killed this young man," Macri said.

"There is no reason he should have been neglected," Macri said. "There was a medical condition that required attention. There is no excuse. This man needed prompt attention and they were obligated to see that he got it and to go five days without anything, not even medication, is not appropriate."

Donald Davis was unemployed and lived with his mother in an apartment in Newark. He did not have the $300 bail money, so he sat in his cell and told anyone who would listen, including his mother who visited him twice, about his stomach pains. Guards found him dead at 8 a.m., during their morning rounds. Macri said it appears Donald Davis had been dead for at least an hour.

-30-

Woodlynne pays $105K to former police officers

In September 2008, the Borough of Woodlynne in Camden County paid $105,000 to two former Caucasian police officers who claimed reverse discrimination because the town's mayor, Jeraldo Fuentes, preferred to give promotions to Latinos. The officers who were plaintiff in the suit were David Gunnings and Andrew Lee. Another plaintiff, William Moore, was dismissed from the suit because of his failure to abide with pretrial discovery obligations. The settlement agreement and other court filings are at:

http://www.lpcnj.org/OGTF/Woodlynne.pdf

A December 28, 2007 court opinion, included with the documents at the above link, contains some interesting allegations regarding Woodlynne politics.

The statements above were all taken from the officers' version of events. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $105,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Borough or any of its officers or employees. All that is known for sure is that Woodlynne Borough and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the officers and their lawyers $105,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the Borough's 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 officers' claims were true, and the Borough 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