Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Stratford Borough settles with its Clerk for $75,000

On July 29, 2009, John D. Keenan, Jr., the Borough Clerk of Stratford Borough (Camden County) accepted $75,000 as full settlement of his claim that the Borough improperly attempted to cut his pay and remove him from his position as Borough Clerk.

Keenan's civil lawsuit, filed in June 2007, alleges that Mayor Thomas D. Angelucci and the Borough Council "set on a course to retaliate against [him] based upon his political views and affiliations." Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that the Mayor and Council cut Keenan's salary by over $10,000 and brought charges against him for sending "partisan" e-mails which expressed "political views and affiliations which were at odds with the majority of the Borough governing body."

Keenan's suit further alleges that Mayor Angelucci threatened him with "the harshest political response" and that Council met in executive session to discuss consequences against Keenan without having first given him a "Rice" notice (i.e. advance written notice to public employees whose rights could be adversely affected advising them of their right to force the matter to be discussed at a public meeting).

The case is captioned Keenan v. Borough of Stratford, et al, Case No. CAM-L-3861-07. Keenan's lawyer was Michelle J. Douglass of Northfield. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a provision requiring both Keenan and the Borough from disclosing the terms of the settlement. Fortunately, however, such "confidentiality clauses" do not trump the public's right to know under the Open Public Records Act.

None of Keenan's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $75,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Borough of any of the officers or employees. All that is known for sure is that Stratford, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Keenan and his lawyer $75,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps Stratford'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 claims were true and Stratford 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 30, 2009

West Deptford Township pays $24,000 to woman who claims police used excessive force

On October 26, 2009, Andrea Damiani of Wenonah, New Jersey, accepted $24,000 as full settlement of her excessive force claim against the Township of West Deptford, the City of Woodbury (both in Gloucester County) and members of their municipal police departments. The entire $24,000 was paid by West Deptford and nothing was paid by Woodbury.

Damiani's civil lawsuit, filed August 14, 2008, arose out an August 12, 2005 traffic stop that occurred while Damiani was travelling south on Route 45 in West Deptford Township. She claims that during the stop, West Deptford Police Corporal Stephen Meduri and Officers Michael S. Franks and Michael Cramer, along with Woodbury Police Officer William Palese, using "grossly excessive, unnecessary force" pulled her out of her vehicle cause "serious injury" to her left wrist as well as emotional distress.

The case is captioned Damiani v. West Deptford et al, Case No. 01:07-cv-02884-JEI-AMD. Damiani's lawyers were Randy P. Catalano and F. Michael Daily, Jr. both of Westmont. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Damiani's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $24,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by either the Township or any of the police officers. All that is known for sure is that West Deptford and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Damiani and her lawyers $24,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps West Deptford'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 claims were true and West Deptford 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 25, 2009

Paterson pays $4,000 to woman who claims she was falsely arrested

On June 22, 2009, Sau Fong Lam of New York City, accepted $4,000 from the City of Paterson as full settlement of her lawsuit against Passaic County Jail officials, the City of Paterson, Paterson Police Officer Quaema McElveen and other unnamed Paterson officers. According to Timothy J. Cunningham, Esq., Passaic County's Deputy County Administrator, "the County of Passaic did not contribute to any financial settlement with" Ms. Lam.

The incident that gave rise to the suit occurred on August 17, 2008 at a Paterson residence that the New Majestic Restaurant Buffet of Wayne provides as sleeping quarters for its restaurant staff. According to Lam's lawsuit, she shared a bedroom with Li Ni when the two women began arguing. Ni allegedly asked a third woman, named Ping and who was proficient in English, "to call 911 and make a false report that Sau Fong Lam had assaulted her." Ping allegedly placed the call after receiving permission from New Majestic's owner to call 911.

Officer McElveen responded to the call and allegedly arrested and handcuffed Lam without an arrest warrant and despite Ni having no visible injuries to suggest that she had been assaulted. While she was at the police station, Lam claimed an unnamed officer shut a door on her left hand causing her to scream out in pain. She further alleged that the officer did not release her hand from the door until after she apologized for screaming out.

Further, Lam alleges that when she was taken to the emergency room for treatment of her hand, she was given a prescription a pain medication that Paterson officers would not allow her to fill. She claims to have been held in jail overnight and was not allowed access to the prescribed pain medication.

Finally, she claims that the assault charges against her were dismissed on October 9, 2008 for lack of prosecution.

The case is captioned Lam v. Passaic County et al, Case No. 2:08-cv-05598-JAG-MCA. Lam's lawyer was Peter L. Quan of New York, NY. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Lam's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $4,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the City or any of the police officers. All that is known for sure is that Paterson and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Lam and her lawyer $4,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps Paterson'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 claims were true and Paterson 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.

Freehold Township pays $25,000 to man who claims he was maliciously prosecuted

On November 17, 2009, Michael Rogers of Freehold, New Jersey, accepted $25,000 as full settlement of his false arrest and malicious prosecution claim against the Township of Freehold (Monmouth County) and Michael Denham, who serves as a Freehold Township Police Officer.

Rogers' civil lawsuits, filed March 10, 2008 and February 27, 2009, arose out a July 14, 2005 incident that occurred at Escondido's Restaurant at 402 West Main Street, Freehold. According to the lawsuits, Rogers was lawfully at the restaurant when Denham detained him "without a reasonable justifiable suspicion of any criminal activity." Rogers goes on to claim that Denham arrested him in a "violent manner" without an arrest warrant and "falsely and maliciously charged [him] with resisting arrest and aggravated assault on a police officer." Rogers claims that a jury acquitted him of the charges on February 28, 2007.

On July 14, 2008, United State District Court Judge Mary L. Cooper dismissed Rogers' claims of false arrest and false imprisonment because the suit wasn't filed until after the two-year statute of limitations had expired. The malicious prosecution claim, however, was not barred by the statute of limitations because that claim arose on February 27, 2007, the date of Rogers' acquittal.

The cases are captioned Rogers v. Freehold et al, Case No. 3:08-cv-02080-MLC-LHG and Rogers v. Denham, Case No. 3:09-cv-01936-MLC-DEA. Rogers' lawyer in both cases was Pablo N. Blanco of South Orange. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a provision requiring both Rogers and the Township from disclosing the terms of the settlement. Fortunately, however, such "confidentiality clauses" do not trump the public's right to know under the Open Public Records Act.

None of Rogers's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Township or any of the police officers. All that is known for sure is that Freehold and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Rogers and his lawyer $25,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps Freehold'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 claims were true and Freehold 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 23, 2009

Asbury Park City pays $35,000 to man who claims he was falsely arrested

On October 15, 2009, David Jules of Neptune, New Jersey, accepted $35,000 as full settlement of his false arrest and malicious prosecution claim against the City of Asbury Park (Monmouth County) and two members of its police department.

Jules' civil lawsuit, filed April 8, 2007, arose out an April 2005 incident that occurred while Jules was employed by Tactical Security Operations (TSO), a private security firm. According to the lawsuit, Jules, who is African-American, was patrolling a construction site at about 10 p.m. on April 8th when an individual named Douglas Eschner allegedly informed him that he reported Jules to the police for driving down the street with his vehicle's yellow light activated. Later that same evening, Jules alleges, he was told by Asbury Police Officer Brian Townsend that Eschner complained that Jules had harassed him.

Jules alleged that in the early morning hours of April 11th, while on patrol for TSO, he was stopped by Townsend and Sergeant David DeSane and arrested for a drug possession offense. He reportedly was held for "more than two hours and released without bail." Jules alleges that during the stop of his vehicle, "his personal property, including binoculars, a video monitor and surveillance camera used in performance of his job were all destroyed," and that the arrest stigmatized him and jeopardized his career choices.

According to the complaint, the drug charges were all dismissed "on motion of the prosecutor." Jules alleged that Townsend and DeSane knew at the time of the arrest that Jules was not in possession of any drugs, and that the arrest was done maliciously and "in retaliation for his encounter with Eschner.

The case is captioned Jules v. Asbury Park et al, Case No. 06-cv-509 . Jules' lawyer was Stephen M. Latimer of Hackensack. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a provision requiring both Jules and the City from disclosing the terms of the settlement. Fortunately, however, such "confidentiality clauses" do not trump the public's right to know under the Open Public Records Act.

None of Jules's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $35,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the City of any of the police officers. All that is known for sure is that Asbury Park and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Jules and his lawyer $35,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps Asbury Park'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 claims were true and Asbury Park 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 18, 2009

East Orange paid out a total of $75,000 to settle two intertwined lawsuits

In May 2007, Keith Hinton, then a East Orange Police Sergeant, accepted $50,000 to pay his lawyer, Algeier Woodruff, P.C. of Morristown, for legal services performed on a suit Hinton had filed against the East Orange Police Department and several police officials. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

In August 2007, Angelic (Angel) Muhammad of East Orange, accepted $25,000 to settle her lawsuit against the department and several police officials. Muhammad was also represented by Algeier Woodruff, P.C. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

Both lawsuits are summarized in the following article published in the October 13, 2004 Star Ledger.

Woman accuses police of sex assault - Prosecutor reviewing E. Orange allegations

Star-Ledger, The (Newark, NJ) - Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Author: Kevin C. Dilworth And Margaret Mchugh, Star-ledger Staff

An East Orange woman has filed a federal civil lawsuit accusing the police chief and seven other officers of sexually assaulting her over the past 20 years.

Angelic (Angel) Muhammad, 36, of North Arlington Avenue, near Summit Street, claims she was forced to perform sexual acts in exchange for not being charged with "phony or false charges."

The assaults, "well known throughout the department," began when Muhammad was 16 and continued until this year, according to a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Newark.

Besides Chief Charles Grimes, the officers named in the suit are Lt. Michael Brown, retired Capt. Michael Palardy, Sgt. Gary Kelshaw, just retired Capt. Walter Jetter, officer Steven Sims, officer James Smith and Capt. James O'Toole.

Unspecified sexual acts were performed in East Orange police vehicles, inside police headquarters and inside some of the private homes of police officers, according to the lawsuit.

Muhammad, a former drug abuser who does not have a job, never filed a police report or criminal complaint over the last two decades, said Muhammad's attorney, Robert Woodruff of Morristown.

However, Muhammad's allegations are now being reviewed, Charlotte Smith, an executive first assistant prosecutor with the Essex County Prosecutor's Office in Newark, said yesterday.

"There's an ongoing investigation by our office's sex crimes unit and professional standards unit, regarding alleged acts by East Orange police officers," Smith said.

Patrick Toscano, a Nutley attorney representing Grimes, dismissed Muhammad's accusations against the chief as being unfounded.

"Charles Grimes' reputation, as one of the finest chiefs of police in the state of New Jersey, precedes him," Toscano said. "His character among law enforcement circles is impeccable.

"The plaintiff alleges she has been the victim of myriad sexual assaults over an approximately 20- year period, without ever reporting same to any law enforcement agency," Toscano said. "Such a position, by its very nature, is incredible. The complaint that she has filed includes numerous misstatements and blatant (falsehoods)."

Jason Holt, East Orange's head city attorney, declined comment on Muhammad's suit because the city has not yet been formally served with it.

Muhammad's attorney, Robert Woodruff of Morristown, said his client had not come forward before because she was scared to death, did not believe anyone would take her seriously, and did not know until recently that she could sue. He described Muhammad as being simple-minded, unmarried and the mother of two children now approaching adulthood.

"They threatened her with various disorderly persons offenses," Woodruff said of the eight police officers accused of sexually assaulting Muhammad. "Nothing serious, such as any first- or second-degree crimes."

Muhammad's suit - officially filed Oct. 6, assigned to U.S. District Court Judge G. Donald Haneke for pretrial, and to U.S. District Court Judge Joseph A. Greenaway Jr. for trial - are intertwined with other recent lawsuits alleging misconduct in the East Orange Police Department.

On Oct. 1, Sgt. Keith Hinton filed a suit accusing police brass of passing him over for promotions because he refused to pay cash to get promoted and because he also aired allegations of misconduct within the department.

In Hinton's case, the department, Grimes, Lt. Paul Davis, Sgt. Berkely (Tony) Jest, Lt. Sharon Mosby and former East Orange first assistant corporation counsel Lucas Phillips are named as defendants. It has been assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Patty Shwartz for pretrial and Judge Katherine S. Hayden for trial.

On Sept. 16, officer Norman Price, who is under indictment for stealing from the department and participating in a $100,000 computer equipment scam, sued police and other law enforcement officials - including members of the Essex County Prosecutor's Office in Newark - for allegedly conspiring against him and tainting evidence in his case.

Muhammad, Hinton and Price all know each other and Woodruff, the Morristown lawyer, is representing all of them.

Muhammad's lawsuit claims that three East Orange police internal affairs investigators, Mosby, Jest and Davis, tried to coerce her into accusing Hinton and Price of sexually assaulting her, too.

"They tried to get her to say that Price and Hinton were two of the people who had sex with her," Woodruff said. "She said, 'No, are you nuts?'"

Woodruff said Grimes was not chief at the time of his alleged assaults. According to the lawsuit, only two of the lawmen, Kelshaw and Jetter, assaulted Muhammad in the last two years.

None of Hinton's or Muhammad's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreements expressly state that the $50,000 and $25,000 payments do not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that East Orange and/or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay $50,000 and $25,000 than take the matters to trial. Perhaps East Orange'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 claims were true and East Orange 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.

Freehold Borough pays $65,000 to man who gave officers "the finger"

On July 15, 2009, Melvin Love, of Freehold, New Jersey, accepted $65,000 as full settlement of his excessive force claim against the Borough of Freehold (Monmouth County) and several members of its police department.

Love's civil lawsuit, filed in February 2008, arose out his encounter with Freehold Borough Police Officers Christopher Colanear and Christopher Otlowski on June 6, 2007.

Love alleges that while he was talking to two friends outside his mother's home, Colanear, Otlowski and other unnamed officers drove by and "taunted" him. In response to the officers, Love "gestured to them with his middle finger." This gesture, according to the suit, angered the officers who allegedly threw Love "through a fence and maced him" and then arrested him for disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and drug possession.

The case is captioned Love v. Freehold Borough et al, Case No. 3:08-cv-00749-FLW-DEA . Love's lawyer was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a provision requiring both Love and the Borough from disclosing the terms of the settlement. Fortunately, however, such "confidentiality clauses" do not trump the public's right to know under the Open Public Records Act.

None of Love's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $65,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Borough of any of the police officers. All that is known for sure is that Freehold and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Love and his lawyer $65,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps Freehold'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 claims were true and Freehold 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.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Spotswood pays $50,000 to to arrestee who committed suicide in jail

On March 19, 2009, the family of a Monroe Township (Middlesex County) man accepted $50,000 from the Borough of Spotswood as partial settlement of his and his aunt's lawsuit arising from their January 20, 2003 arrests. The arrests preceded the man committing suicide in his cell at the Middlesex County Adult Correctional Center (MCACC) the following day.

The $50,000 settlement discharged only Spotswood and its police officers from the suit. After settling with Spotswood, the suit continued against both Middlesex County jail officials and CFG Health Systems, LLC, a private firm under contract with Middlesex County to provide medical and psychiatric services to inmates.

According to the lawsuit, Nestor Tosado (also referred to in court papers as "Nester Tosado"), then 24, was stopped by Spotswood Police on January 20, 2003. After reportedly being placed "in fear of his life" by the allegedly :abusive and threatening" conduct of the officers, Tosado fled on foot to the home of his aunt, Carmella Povlosky, who resided in an apartment at 289 Main Street.

Povlosky, who is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, claimed that the police entered her apartment without a warrant, and "kicked, punched, used pepper mace and brutally beat" Tosado. When Povlosky "asked the officers why they were beating Nester," the officers allegedly arrested her. Ms. Povlosky alleges that the charges brought against her were later dismissed in court.

According to a July 15, 2005 article in the Home News Tribune, the police said that after they stopped Tosado, they discovered that he had two active warrants and "found syringes, some containing heroin, in his car."

The Spotswood officers who are named as defendants in the suit are: Chief Karl Martin, Capt. Michael Zarro, Sgts. Joseph Seylaz and Philip Corbisiero, detective Eugene Scheicher, and patrolmen William Desrosier, Les Genovese, and Scott Hoover. Chief Martin was quoted in the Home News Tribune article as having said, "It's another frivolous lawsuit wasting the resources of the Police Department."

A September 16, 2008 opinion written by District Court Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise summarized the lawsuit's allegations as follows. Upon his arrival at the MCACC, Tosado was given an intake exam by CFG. Despite knowing that Tosado "had a history of depression and was in severe withdraw from heroin and methadone," it did not put Tosado in a closely monitored "special needs unit" or in the hospital. Rather, "he was placed in a standard cell and left to fend for himself until the next examination at 6:25 the following morning."

At Tosado's examination the next morning, his blood pressure was highly elevated, he complained of nausea and prison staff reported to CFG that he was vomiting in his cell. "Despite these developments, CFG nurses refused to examine him. In fact, one CFG employee actually crossed [Tosado's] name off a list of inmates who were scheduled to receive psychiatric evaluations that day. Suffering from severe withdrawal and unable to get help, Mr. Tosado apparently decided to take his own life. At 4:33 that afternoon, corrections officers found him hanging from a bed sheet in his cell."

The $50,000 settlement was equally split between Tosado's estate. administered by his mother, Catherine Tosado, and Povlosky.

On May 29, 2009, Judge Debevoise dismissed the suit against the Corrections Center, Warden Michael Abode and other unnamed county officers. On September 29, 2009 the suit was reportedly settled with CFG Health Systems. Since CFG is not a public entity, the settlement agreement is not a public record subject to disclosure under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA). Thus, there is no way to learn the amount and terms of settlement.

However, an August 7, 2009 letter to the court from Maria D. Noto of Matawan--who represented the Tosado's estate and Povlosky in the lawsuit--she had demanded a $750,000 settlement from CFG and the firm responded with a counter-offer of $35,000. Accordingly, it stands to reason that the ultimate settlement amount fell somewhere between these two figures.

The case is captioned Catherine Tosado et al v. Middlesex County Department of Corrections, et al, Case No. 2:05-cv-05112-DRD-MAS. The lawsuit, settlement agreement and other relevant documents are on-line here.

None of Tosado family's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $50,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Borough or its officials. All that is known for sure is that Spotswood Borough, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Tosado family and their lawyer $50,000 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 claims were true and Spotswood 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.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Warren County pays $12,000 to arrestee

On August 11, 2009, a Camden County man accepted $12,000 as full settlement of his lawsuit arising out of his Friday, March 31, 2006 arrest and incarceration by members of the Warren County Sheriff's Department. The man, Richard Bailo of Voorhees, claimed in his March 28, 2008 lawsuit that he was arrested on a child support warrant that he said was issued in error. Although he was told he would be taken to the probation department to resolve the error, he alleges that he was instead taken to Warren County Correctional Facility where he, and other arrestees, were were chained to a bench "without intake for approximately four hours" while the correctional officers "ate and read magazines."

Bailo claims that his troubles intensified after he objected to the treatment another inmate received after asking to be unchained so that he could use the restroom. According to the suit, the inmate "soiled his clothing" after officers denied him use of the restroom and told him to "go ahead and pee in your pants."

Bailo claims that after he objected to the treatment his fellow arrestee received, a Caucasian female officer "with red curly hair" accused him of being "a real hard ass" and moved the other arrestees into another room. At that point, Bailo claims, officers placed his right hand behind his head, pushed him face down to the floor and handcuffed him while one officer stood on his back. Then, Bailo claims, Sheriff Officer Pablo Sanchez and Jonathan Danberry lifted him and "threw him head first" through a doorway, which caused his left knee to strike the steel corner of a bed. He states that he "heard a snap in his left knee" but was denied medical attention--except for being given two aspirins.

Bailo further claims that he was not allowed to use the telephone until the evening of Saturday, April 1st, which was more than 24 hours after his arrest. Ultimately, he claims, he was held until Monday morning when officers told him "that there had been a mistake at the court house, that he was no longer under arrest and that he did not have to appear in front of a judge." He claims to have suffered "a torn meniscus and anterior cruciate ligament" in his knee.

The case is captioned Bailo v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of Warren County, Case No. 08-cv-1555-JAP. Bailo's lawyer was Dennis M. Abrams of Cherry Hill. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Bailo's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $12,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the County or the its jail officials. All that is known for sure is that Warren County, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Bailo and their lawyer $12,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps Warren 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 claims were true and Warren 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.

Andover Township pays $60,000 to settle cop's discrimination suit

On August 10, 2009, David Szatkiewicz a police officer in Andover Township for 17 years, accepted $60,000 in settlement of his discrimination lawsuit against the Township of Andover (Sussex County).

In his suit, which was filed in January 2008, Szatkiewicz alleged that previous members of the Andover Township Committee and Police Chief Phillip Coleman retaliated against him for backing other candidates for Township Committee. The lawsuit alleges the chief once told Szatkiewicz he had "hitched his cart to the wrong horses." In addition to the $60,000 settlement, Szatkiewicz received $19,557 of accumulated sick and vacation time, and $3,981 in holiday time. He also agreed to resign his position.

The case is captioned Szatkiewicz v. Township of Andover et al, Case No. 2:08-cv-00047-JAG-MCA . Szatkiewicz's lawyer was Gregory F. Kotchnick of West Caldwell. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Szatkiewicz's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $60,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Township or any of its officers. All that is known for sure is that Andover, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Szatkiewicz and his lawyer $60,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps Andover'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 claims were true and Andover 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 13, 2009

Atlantic City Board of Ed pays $175,000 in alleged child molestation case

On October 19, 2009, a twelve-year old girl and her mother, accepted $175,000 in settlement of a lawsuit arising out of the girl's claim that she had been sexually molested by a school janitor.

In her suit, which was filed on August 21, 2008, the girl alleged that on October 24, 2003, when she was six years old and a first grade student at the Chelsea Heights School, school janitor Reinaldo Rodriguez "sexually molested her by rubbing her inner thighs while she was seated in the school cafeteria."

The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here. The girl and her mother were represented by Michael J. Mackler of Atlantic City.

None of the girl's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $175,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Atlantic City Board or any of its officers. All that is known for sure is that the Atlantic City Board, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the girl and her lawyer $175,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the Atlantic City Board'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 claims were true and the Atlantic City 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.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Dunellen pays $7,500 to settle nonspecific claims of police misconduct

On October 15, 2009, Plainfield resident Chauncey Scott and his parents, Ernest Scott and Donna Scott, accepted $7,500 in settlement of their lawsuit against Dunellen Borough and its police department.

The lawsuit, filed in State Court in early 2008, is vague. It alleges only that that Dunellen engaged in unspecified acts of misconduct against Chauncey Scott on February 22, 2006. While most such complaints recite specific details regarding the alleged misconduct, this one does not. The complaint was drafted by the Scotts' lawyer, Gerald Gordon of New Brunswick.

The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of the Scotts' allegations--whatever they are--have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Borough or any of its officers. All that is known for sure is that Dunellen, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the Scotts and their lawyer $7,500 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps Dunellen'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 claims were true and Dunellen 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 4, 2009

Princeton pays $67,500 to woman denied access to toilet during traffic stop

On August 1, 2009, Princeton resident Linda Fahmie-Arnold accepted $67,500 in settlement of her lawsuit against Princeton Borough and the Borough's police department.

In her lawsuit, filed on August 13, 2008, Arnold alleged that she was "brutally treated" by Police Officer Adam Basatemur during an April 30, 2007 traffic stop on Route 206 South. She alleges that after being stopped, she told Basatemur that she "was having severe stomach cramps and that she needed to use a bathroom quickly and that she lived a short distance away." According to her complaint, Basatemur told her "on two separate occasions that if he had to use the bathroom that she should go behind a tree." Further, she alleges that "Basatemur humiliated, embarrassed and/or treated her inhumanely by watching her go to the bathroom in direct and clear violation of her federally and state protected constriction rights." She claimed that Basatemur issued her a motor vehicle ticket which was later dismissed.

According to the filed complaint, Police Chief Anthony V. Federico, after learning of the incident told Arnold that Basatemur's conduct was "inexcusable and unprofessional" and violated numerous police department rules. Arnold alleges that Basatemur was suspended for two months due to the incident.

The case is captioned Arnold v. Borough of Princeton, Case No. 3:08-cv-04125-MLC-TJB. Arnold's lawyer was Todd J. Leonard of Morristown. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Arnold's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Township or any of its officers. All that is known for sure is that Princeton, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Arnold and her lawyer $67,500 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps Princeton'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 claims were true and Princeton 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.

Lawnside pays $350,000 to settle female cop's harassment suit

In October 2009, Carmen Chapman, a police officer for Lawnside Borough (Camden County), accepted $350,000 in settlement of her lawsuit against the Borough and her supervisors within the Borough's police department.

In her lawsuit, filed on April 4, 2008, Chapman, who was Lawnside's first female police officer when appointed in 2002, alleged that Public Safety Director John Cunningham and Sergeant Lloyd Lewis (now a lieutenant) engaged in a pattern of misconduct against her.

Specifically, Chapman alleges that Lewis, who was her supervisor, continually asked her to socialize with him outside of work hours and repeatedly suggested that they get "together for drinks." After her swearing-in ceremony, while other officers shook her hand, Chapman alleges that Lewis "grabbed and hugged" her. Chapman alleges that she always rebuffed Lewis' advances, but was nonetheless "verbally reprimanded for inappropriate contact with Lewis by then Public Safety Director George D. Pugh."

She further alleges that Lewis harassed her by instructing officers of the Barrington Police Department not to provide back up to her and her partner should they call for backup, failing to supply her with necessary equipment and for applying the department's bereavement leave policy to her differently than to other, male officers.

As to Cunningham, Chapman alleges that shortly after taking his position in May 2006, he started subjecting her and her activities to a level of scrutiny different than that applied to male police officers. She also alleges that while she was on medical leave after having surgery on her right knee due to a work injury, Cunningham determined that she was unfit for duty, stopped her salary from being paid and had a disciplinary notice served upon her at her home.

The case is captioned Chapman v. Borough of Lawnside, Case No. 1:08-cv-01695-NLH-JS . Chapman's lawyer was Jacqueline M. Vigilante of Mullica Hill. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a provision requiring both Chapman and the Borough from disclosing the terms of the settlement. Fortunately, however, such "confidentiality clauses" do not trump the public's right to know under the Open Public Records Act.

The settlement agreement also requires Chapman to resign on December 31, 2009 if she does not receive employment with another agency by then.

None of Chapman's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $350,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Township or any of its officers. All that is known for sure is that Lawnside, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Chapman and her lawyer $350,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps Lawnside'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 claims were true and Lawnside 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.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sussex County pays $25,830 to jail inmates who were "ankle deep" in sewage

On September 10, 2009, five men who were inmates in the Sussex County Jail accepted a total of $25,830 as full settlement of their lawsuit for damages resulting from raw sewage backing up into their cells. Of the sum, the inmates each received $3,340, for a total of $16,700, while the remainder went for their attorney's fee and other costs.

The backup, which occurred on June 12, 2005, entered into the cells of inmates Jeffrey Bissonnette, Matthew Everhart, Shawn Laverty, Thomas Piscotty and Jack Asencio, all of whom were being held in isolation in the jail's disciplinary unit. In their lawsuit, the men claimed that jail officials refused their requests to be removed from their cells and were forced to eat their meals there and to clean up the mess.  The backup was apparently caused by another inmate flushing a blanket down a toilet.

The case is captioned Everhart et al v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Sussex, Case No. 07-cv-02650-FSH . The inmates' lawyer was Damiano M. Fracasso of Mount Olive.  A June 12, 2007 news article regarding the lawsuit's filing and the settlement agreements are on-line here.

The settlement agreements require the inmates to keep the settlement terms "as confidential as possible under the circumstances."  Such confidentiality agreements, however, do not supersede the public's right to know under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).

None of the mens' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $25,830 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the County or the its jail officials. All that is known for sure is that Sussex County, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the men and their lawyer $25,830 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps Sussex 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 claims were true and Sussex 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.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Manchester pays $10,000 to settle malicious prosecution suit

On August 18, 2009, James Wall of Jackson, New Jersey, accepted $10,000 in settlement of his malicious prosecution lawsuit against the Township of Manchester (Ocean County), its Mayor and Zoning Officer.

In his suit, which was filed on June 5, 2008, Wall alleged that Manchester Zoning Officer Donald Cain, with an improper motivation, issued sixty-seven zoning citations against him during a nine-month period in 2006 and 2007.  Of the sixty-seven complaints, all of which regarded Wall's property at 3051 Highway 547, Wall claims that six resulted in administrative dismissals by the prosecutor, sixty were dismissed by the court and one resulted in a negotiated plea agreement.

Wall alleged that the ticket writing blitz was a "common scheme" developed by Cain and Manchester Mayor Michael Fressola "to harass [Wall] and constituted "an orchestrated attempt to force [Wall] to sell [his] property to a neighboring property owner."

The case is captioned Wall v. Manchester Township, Case No. 3:08-cv-02801-AET-TJB . Wall's lawyer was Tennant D. Magee, Sr. of Brielle. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Wall's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $10,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Township or any of its officers. All that is known for sure is that Manchester, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Wall and his lawyer $10,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps Manchester'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 claims were true and Manchester 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.

Seaside Park pays $225,000 to police abuse claimant

On September 16, 2009, Alexander Casey, who receives mail at a post office box in New Vernon, New Jersey, accepted $225,000 as full settlement of his excessive force claim against the Borough of Seaside Park (Ocean County) and several members of its police department.

Casey's civil lawsuit, filed in June 2007, arose out his encounter with Seaside Police Officers Christopher Bonner, Jillian Dworzanski, Michael Garvey, Matthew Brady, Christopher R. Graham, Joseph M. Luna, Ryan Jenkins and Rafiq Abdul-Ghafur during the early morning hours of June 10, 2005. 

Casey alleges that walked from the Terrace Motel to the beach across the street via the sand dunes and was approached by officers while lying on the beach.  He claims that Officer Abdul-Ghafur told him that he was under arrest and that he offered no resistance to the arrest. 

During his arrest, Casey claimed that the six officers verbally and physically abused him by punching and kicking him in the face and head, spraying him with OC spray, hitting him in the head with police batons, kicking sand in his eyes and rubbing his injured face in the sand and handcuffing him so tightly as to cause injury. 

Casey further alleged that after he arrived at the Seaside Park Police Headquarters, the six officers continued to spray him in face with OC spray while he was handcuffed in his cell and denied him medical treatment for his injuries. He claims that his injuries were so severe that the Ocean County Jail refused to admit him and required him to be transported to Community Medical Center for medical treatment.

The case is captioned Casey v. Borough of Seaside Park, Case No. 3:07-cv-02704-JAP-DEA . Casey's lawyer was Michael J. Fioretti of Bridgeton.. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Casey's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $225,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Borough of any of the police officers. All that is known for sure is that Seaside Park, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Casey and his lawyer $225,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps Seaside Park'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 claims were true and Seaside Park 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.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Atlantic City pays $40,000 to police abuse claimant

In November 2008, Seth Rouzier of Bridgeport, Connecticut, accepted $40,000 in settlement of his claim against Atlantic City Police Officers Frank Timek and Richard Lasco. In his lawsuit, Rouzier alleged that the two officers physically assaulted him in connection with their November 5, 2005 investigation of an incident at the Hard Rock Cafe on the Boardwalk at Virginia Avenue.

According to Rouzier's lawsuit, the Hard Rock's manager called police after a patron had kicked the front door. Rouzier contents that he was waiting for a food takeout order at the Hard Rock when one of the officers placed him a choke hold, wrestled him to the floor and handcuffed him. Rouzier further alleges that Officers Timek and Lasco put him the back seat of their patrol car, took him into an alley, sprayed him in the face with pepper spray and "said something to the effect of 'welcome to Atlantic City.'"

When they finally got to the police station, Rouzier's lawsuit contends, the two officers dragged him out of the patrol car by his ankles. Since he was still handcuffed, that "caused him to flop down hard on the concrete floor." Thereafter, he alleges that the officers stood him up and "pushed him hard into a wall at least three times."

The case is captioned Rouzier v. Timek et al, Case No. 2:07-cv-5218. Rouzier's lawyer was Raoul Bostillo of Union City. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

The Settlement Agreement contains a confidential clause that requires Rouzier to not disclose the amount of the settlement. Fortunately for the public, such confidential clauses are trumped by the public's right to know.

According to a July 31, 2008 Press of Atlantic City article, Officer Lasco was involved in a previous lawsuit which Atlantic City settled for $95,000. According to the Press article, Sara Mulrooney alleged in her lawsuit that Lasco and another officer, Russell Bouffard, gave her a prescription painkiller which caused her to fall face-first onto the Boardwalk. According to her suit, Lasco and Bouffard invited Mulrooney, who was 20 years old at the time, into their patrol car and gave her Tramadol, a strong painkiller. According to the suit, the pair of officers, once their shift ended, took the underaged girl to a nightclub where the girl drank alcohol in front of the officers. The Press reports that city officials confirmed that Lasco and Bouffard received, respectively, 40 and 180 day unpaid suspensions due to the incident.

None of Rouzier's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $40,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the city or either of the police officers. All that is known for sure is that Atlantic City, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Rouzier $40,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps Atlantic City'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 claims were true and Atlantic City 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, August 20, 2009

State pays $21,000 to settle claim against "sex talk" Camden Probation Officer

On June 4, 2009, the New Jersey Attorney General's office paid a $21,000 settlement to a Franklinville woman who claimed that Camden County child support enforcement officer Martin Kay required her to engage her in graphic sexual dialogue in exchange for working on her case file.

In her civil lawsuit(Camden County Superior Court, Docket No. L-3552-07), Gladys Madden said that she had contacted the Camden County Probation Department for help in collecting overdue child support payments from her ex-husband. Her case was signed to Kay. She claimed that during a sixteen month period in 2005 and 2006, Kay would repeatedly ask her questions regarding about her physical characteristics, such as her bra size, and request that she remove her clothing. She also claimed that when she complained to Kay's superiors, no action was taken.

Madden's claims against Kay, as well as similar claims made by other women, were reported on June 26, 2008 by WTXF-Fox News (Philadelphia). A clip of the coverage is on-line here.

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

Madden was represented in her suit by Michael Aimino, Esq. of Woodbury.

None of Madden's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $21,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Kay or anyone else. All that is known for sure is that the State, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Madden $21,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the State'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 Madden's claims were true and State 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

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Irvington pays out $130,000 on two police-dog mauling cases

Five men have accepted a total of $130,000 in settlement of their claims against the Irvington Township (Essex County) Police. Each of the men alleged that Irvington police officers intentionally caused police dogs named Bullet and Apollo to maul them while they were handcuffed. The cases are Lopez et al v. City of Irvington, Case No. 2:05-cv-05323 and Egoavil v. City of Irvington, Case No. 2:06-cv-01869.

The Lopez case settled on March 6, 2008 for $115,000 and the Egoavil case settled on April 27, 2009 for $15,000. All the men were represented by Robert B. Woodruff, Esq. of Morristown.

In his complaint, Lopez alleges that on May 2, 2004, he was handcuffed and placed in the back seat of a squad car and questioned. Police Officer Alfredo Aleman, who was not satisfied with Mr. Lopez's answers to the questioning, released the dog into the back seat and closed the doors. The police then watched as the dog tore into Mr. Lopez's left shoulder. Mr. Lopez was reportedly still handcuffed while the dog mauled him.

Egoavil, in his suit, claimed that a police dog, while under the control of Police Officer Steven Woodard, "ripped at [Egoavil's] face as he lay on his stomach, hand cuffed and unable to defend himself from the attack."

The lawsuits and settlment information are available on-line here.

None of the men's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $130,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the police officers. All that is known for sure is that Irvington Township, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the men $130,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps Irvington'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 claims were true and Irvington 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 here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Lawnside pays $195,000 to alleged false arrest victim

In late-January 2009, Lawnside Borough officials and/or their insurance carrier paid a transmission repair shop owner $195,000 to settle a police false arrest and excessive force claim.

According to the lawsuit, William Rumbas, who owns Barrington Transmissions on White Horse Pike, Barrington, was test driving a customer's car on April 7, 2004 when it broke down in front of an Amoco station in Lawnside. Rumbas and the Amoco station owner pushed the car into the station's parking lot and Rumbas agreed to come back in two or three days to tow the car back to his own shop.

On April 11, 2004, according to the suit and other court papers, Lawnside Police Officers William Roberts and Daniel Battista visited Rumbas in his shop to issue him a summons for abandoning the vehicle.

According to court documents, Roberts demanded to see Rumbas's driver license. Rumbas reportedly gave Roberts his name and inquired why he needed to see his license. Roberts allegedly became enraged by Rumbas' question and screamed "I'm a patrolman. I want to see your driver's license." After Roberts' further demands for Rumbas' driver license resulted in Rumbas asking why he wanted to see it, Roberts allegedly grabbed Rumbas' left hand, pushed him onto the counter and put handcuffs on him. The incident allegedly happened in front of Rumbas' customers. Rumbas was allegedly taken to the police station where he was charged with abandoning a vehicle. Rumbas claimed that he suffered back and wrist injuries due to the arrest.

Rumbase was represented by Alan E. Denenberg, Esq. of Philadelphia.

The settlement agreement and other lawsuit documents are here.

None of the Rumbas' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The entry of the settlement agreements does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Borough of Lawnside or any of its employees. All that is known for sure is that Lawnside and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the Rumbas family a total of $195,000 than take the matters to trial. Perhaps Lawnside'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, it's possible that Rumbas' claims were true and Lawnside 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. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on-line because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

Monday, May 11, 2009

Private detectives accept $30,000 to settle suit against Atlantic City Police

On December 31, 2008, Drewery Hayes and Shirleena Barnes, both of Mays Landing, each entered into $15,000 settlement agreements with the City of Atlantic City and Atlantic City Police Officers Scott Fenton, Rodney Ruark and John Slota. The settlement brings to conclusion the pair's federal suit brought on June 13, 2008 (Hayes et al v. City of Atlantic City et al, Federal Civil No. 08-2952(RMB))

In their complaint, Hayes and Barnes state that they were working as private detectives on June 13, 2006 when they drove to Fenton's house to serve him with a civil complaint. After identifying themselves and stating the purpose of their visit, the pair allege that Fenton went into his home to retrieve his gun, badge and police radio and radioed for his fellow officers to come to his house. Fenton allegedly had a heated conversation with Hayes about how Hayes came to learn Fenton's home address.

Four officers arrived at Fenton's house, according to the suit, and when Barnes asked why Hayes was being questioned, she was threatened with arrest for interfering with a police investigation. According to the filed complaint, Slota arrested Barnes after she pointed out that Slota spelled her name incorrectly on a police report. Slota allegedly cuffed Barnes and threw her on the trunk of a car even though she had not been resistant to Slota's interrogation. She claimed that Slota's conducted left her with bruises on her right arm and wrist and numbness in her left thumb.

While he wasn't arrested, Hayes was later charged with impersonating a police officer, allegedly because he was wearing black pants and a white shirt and driving a white Ford Crown Victoria.

According to the complaint, both Hayes and Barnes were found not guilty in Atlantic City Municipal Court.

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

Barnes's and Hayes' were represented in their civil case by Demetrius J. Parrish, Jr. of Philadelphia.

None of Barnes' and Hayes' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The entry of the settlement agreements does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Atlantic City or the police officers. All that is known for sure is that Atlantic City and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Barnes and Hayes a total of $30,000 than take the matters to trial. Perhaps Atlantic City'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, it's possible that Barnes' and Hayes' claims were true and Atlantic City 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. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on-line because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

Monday, April 20, 2009

Teacher accepts $2,000 to settle civil case against Barrington School District

This is a follow-up to my earlier posting regarding the $200,000 civil settlement reached in 2008 between nine former Barrington middle school students and the Barrington school district arising out the girls' claims regarding a "sexually hostile environment" at the Woodland School.

Today, I learned that Richard Morgenroth, the teacher who the girls' claims engaged in sexual harassing conduct, settled his own suit against the Barrington school district in February 2008. In his complaint, Morgenroth claimed that the girls conspired with former superintendent Nelson Maloney and teacher Mary Spaeth to communicate false allegations against Morgenroth. According to Morgenroth's suit, these "false, grossly negligent and exaggerated allegations" were reported to the police, causing him to endure a three-day trial which ended in his favor. In his suit, Morgenroth also accused some of the girls and their parents of referring to him as a "Jew Bastard" and that discrimination played a role in the way in which he was treated.

Morgenroth's lawsuit and the settlement agreement are on-line here. Information on the girls' lawsuit is here.

None of the Morgenroth's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The entry of the settlement agreements does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the School District, any of its employees, the girls or their parents. All that is known for sure is that the Barrington School District and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Morgenroth a total of $2,000 than take the matters to trial. Perhaps Barrington'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, it's possible that Morgenroth's claims were true and Barrington wanted to avoid being embarrassed or embarrassing the girls 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. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on-line because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Students settle 2005 Barrington sexual harassment case for $200K

During the summer of 2008, nine former middle school students accepted a total of $200,000 to settle their federal lawsuit against the Barrington School District. The students, all girls who were 12 to 15 during the 2003-04 school year,
had sued the District and Principal Patricia Moore for failing to remedy a "sexually hostile environment" at the Woodland School.

The following documents are on-line:


In their suit, filed on November 14, 2005, the girls claimed that school officials were indifferent to their complaints about the sexually harassing conduct of Richard Morgenroth, 38, their math and computer teacher. In their lawsuit, the girls, who are identified only by their initials, claimed that Morgenroth a) referred to them as being "sexy" or "a bitch," b) stared down the front of their shirts, c) asked one girl, referred to as G.E., to feel his pants, d) asked a former Catholic school student if she was a "good girl or a bad girl" in her Catholic uniform, e) asked the girls to spend time with him after school and gave them detention when they refused, f) remarked that G.E.'s pants were paper-thin and made her crawl on the floor in front of her class and g) asked the girls to comment on whether he was "hotter" than another male teacher.

The lawsuit further alleged that when confronted with the accusations against Morgenroth, Moore replied that “It’s his first year; he’s new at this,” “He’s a good Christian man. I’ve known him for a very long time” and “Look at this man! He would never do a thing like that! He wouldn’t harm a fly.”

The girls' allegations are in contrast to Morgenroth's version, as reported in the May 13, 2005 Courier Post. In that article, which is re-printed in full at the bottom of this message, Morgenroth, after criminal charges against him were dismissed, said that he didn't "blame the kids" and was "glad to be vindicated." According to the article, Morgenroth also recovered his right to teach when the charges were dismissed. Following the article is a news release issued by the Camden County Prosecutor's office in 2004.

None of the girls' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The entry of the settlement agreements does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the School District, Moore or Morgenroth. All that is known for sure is that the Barrington School District and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the girls a total of $200,000 than take the matters to trial. Perhaps Barrington'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, it's possible that the girls' claims were true and Barrington wanted to avoid being embarrassed or embarrassing the girls 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. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on-line because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. For more information on the Libertarian Party, click here.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey
--------------------------------
Ex-Barrington teacher cleared of charges
Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, NJ) - Friday, May 13, 2005
Author: Courier-Post, RENEE WINKLER, Staff
By RENEE WINKLER

Courier-Post Staff CAMDEN

A former mathematics and computer teacher at a Barrington middle school was cleared Thursday of all allegations that he inappropriately touched 12 of his students during class.

Richard Morgenroth , 38, of Elkins Road in Cherry Hill, originally faced 13 complaints.

Morgenroth, who had been a first-year teacher at Woodland School, had been convicted of three counts in municipal court. But Superior Court Judge William Cook on Thursday dismissed those counts on Morgenroth's appeal, saying there was no finding of wrongdoing.

Eight of the complaints against Morgenroth had been dismissed at a municipal court hearing, and the prosecutor's office dropped the other two.

"I don't blame the kids," Morgenroth said Thursday. "I'm just glad to be vindicated."

The female students all claimed Morgenroth had rubbed or touched their shoulders in class, said Robert Agre, Morgenroth's attorney.

In the complaints, all disorderly persons offenses, the students claimed the incidents took place between September 2003 and April 2004.

Morgenroth initially had to forfeit his right to teach. The former environmental engineer also was barred from doing any work for the state. He is no longer subject to those forfeitures.

"I lost my job over this. I lost two jobs," he said. "I would love to return to teaching. I would have no problem walking back into that school."

Morgenroth said he has been out of work since last May.

"I lost that income," he said. "Now I know how to budget."

-----
CAMDEN COUNTY PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE
VINCENT P. SARUBBI, CAMDEN COUNTY PROSECUTOR
MEDIA INFORMATION

September 14, 2004

Camden County Prosecutor Vincent P. Sarubbi and Barrington Police Chief George Preen reported that their agencies today issued a series of 12 summonses against Richard Morgenroth, M/37, alleging that he subjected female students to offensive touching while he was a teacher at the Woodland School in Barrington, N.J.

Each of the summonses alleges Harassment, a Petty Disorderly Persons Offense. They were served on Morgenroth, of the 100 block of Elkins Road in Cherry Hill, this morning at the Barrington Police Department. A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 20, 2004, at 5 p.m. in Barrington Municipal Court.

Should a judge find Morgenroth guilty, the maximum penalty on each summons is a $500 fine and 30 days in jail, though there is a presumption against incarceration. In addition, a guilty finding would permanently disqualify Morgenroth from public employment.

The charges result from a 4½-month investigation by the Camden County Prosecutor's Office and the Barrington Police Department, conducted with the cooperation of the Barrington School District. The district suspended Morgenroth in April and declined to renew his contract this school year.

"The investigation revealed a persistent pattern of inappropriate behavior with numerous children," Sarubbi stated.

Eleven of the summonses accuse Morgenroth of "repeatedly rubbing and/or massaging the shoulders" of 11 girls, ages 12 to 14, while they were students in the defendant's computer class. The remaining summons accuses the defendant of touching the thighs of one of the 11 girls, a 13-year-old, and commenting on how tight her jeans were. The offenses allegedly took place between September 2003 and April 2004 at the school for grades four to eight.

All persons charged with offenses are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
-end

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lake Como pays $60,000 to settle police abuse case

On December 10, 2008, the Borough of Lake Como (Monmouth County) paid $52,500 to James Gavin and $7,500 to Brian Gavin to settle the pair's separate federal lawsuits. In their lawsuits, filed May 25, 2007, the Gavins, who list addresses in Mansfield Township, Warren County, claimed that on May 28, 2005, the Lake Como police "suddenly and without warning or justification committed a wrongful assault and battery" upon them. The Lake Como police officers named in the suit were Special Officer Ben Estrada-Rivera, Officer William Fancher, Officer Allen and Sergeant Nicholas Schas. In addition to assault and battery, the pair alleged false arrest, excessive force, malicious prosecution and constitutional violations. They were represented by Robert D. Kobin, Esq. of Succasunna, New Jersey.

The settlement agreements require the Gavins and the Borough to keep the settlement terms confidential. If asked about the matter, the agreements they signed obligated them to respond "no comment."

The settlement agreements and the lawsuits referred to above are on-line here.

None of the Gavins' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The entry of the settlement agreements does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Borough or any its officers. All that is known for sure is that Lake Como, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the Gavins a total of $60,000 than take the matters to trial. Perhaps Lake Como'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, it's possible that the Gavins' claims were true and Lake Como 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. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on-line because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. For more information on the Libertarian Party, click here.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Gloucester Township pays $35,000 to man who fell down stairs while in police custody

On February 2008, Gloucester Township or its insurer paid local resident Robert J. Tarves $35,000 to settle a lawsuit claiming that he was seriously injured during a December 2005 drunk driving arrest. According to the lawsuit, Gloucester Township Police Officer Michael Miller took Tarves into custody because he "was adversely affected by intake of alcoholic beverages." The lawsuit goes on to state that Tarves was handcuffed, with his hands behind his back, even though he "offered absolutely no resistance to the arrest."

Upon arrival at the police station, Tarves allegedly had to descend eight concrete steps, which had a metal handrail on the right side, to enter the police building. Tarves allegedly asked Officer Miller to remove the handcuffs so that Tarves could use the railing while descending the steps. Miller allegedly refused the request and Tarves "who was already unsteady because of the intake of alcoholic beverages" stumbled and fell down the steps and allegedly suffered "severe injuries to his right ankle and fibula" that required surgery.

The settlement agreement and the lawsuit referred to above are on-line here.


Tarves was represented by James A. Mullen, Jr., Esq. of Haddonfield.

None of Tarves's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The entry of settlement agreement does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Township or any its officers. All that is known for sure is that Gloucester Township, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Tarves $35,000 than take the matters to trial. Perhaps Gloucester'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, it's possible that Tarves's claims were true and Gloucester 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. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on-line because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. For more information on the Libertarian Party, click here.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Englewood pays $4,750 to settle police abuse case filed by minor.

On March 24, 2007, the City of Englewood paid $4,750 to Brian Lynch who claimed to have been assaulted by Englewood Police officers S. Carnahan, M. DeLarosa, T. Greeley and J. Doyle on March 27, 2005, when Lynch was 15 years old. Lynch claims that the assault took place in a parking lot near Slocum Street, Englewood at eight o'clock in the morning.

Lynch was represented in his lawsuit by Nathaniel M. Davis, Esq. of Newark.

The settlement agreement and the lawsuit referred to above are on-line here.

None of Lynch's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The entry of settlement agreement does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the City or any its officers. All that is known for sure is that Englewood, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Lynch $4,750 than take the matters to trial. Perhaps Englewood'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, it's possible that Lynch's claims were true and Englewood 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. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on-line because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. For more information on the Libertarian Party, click here.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bogota pays $115,000 to settle police assault case.

On September 29, 2008, Bogota Borough in Bergen County and/or its insurer paid $115,000 to three men who claimed the Bogota police assaulted them after a May 2005 bar fight that involved an off-duty officer.

The settlement agreement, which contains a confidentiality clause, is on-line here and the lawsuit is described in a May 15, 2007 newspaper article that is posted below.

None of the allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The entry of settlement agreement does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Borough or any its officers. All that is known for sure is that Bogota, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the men $115,000 than take the matters to trial. Perhaps Bogota'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 claims were true and Bogota 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
-------------------------------------
Bogota police sued over brawl at bar 3 men say drunken off-duty cop started fight

Record, The (Hackensack, NJ) - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Author: PETER J. SAMPSON, STAFF WRITER

Three men arrested in a barroom brawl are suing Bogota , its Police Department and four officers in federal court for $1 million, claiming they were victims of an assault and coverup.

The men claim Officer Daniel Creange was intoxicated when he picked the May 2005 fight after assuming that one of them had bumped into him while he was off duty at the 101 Pub on Queen Anne Road.

Several other officers joined in, leaving David Connolly of Ridgefield Park and brothers Mark and Matthew Rios of Hackensack with "serious, permanent and disfiguring injuries," alleges the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Newark.

Borough Attorney Joseph Monaghan declined to comment on the suit.

Creange, an 11-year veteran, has denied instigating the brawl. He is appealing an eight-week suspension without pay for threatening one of the men, contending the hearing panel was biased and its punishment overly harsh.

Connolly and Mark Rios were taken into custody and charged with simple assault following the melee — a move the plaintiffs allege was designed to cover up abuses by Creange.

Although he was obviously intoxicated and agitated, the suit says, Officers Craig Lynch and Jerome Fowler and Detective Robert Piterski allowed Creange into the restricted lockup area, where he threatened to kill or otherwise harm Connolly.

The suit contends the charges against the men were dismissed in open court in December 2005 after an internal affairs probe. However, the plaintiffs claim Creange demanded that the criminal complaints be reinstated and that these could be dismissed only if they stipulated that probable cause existed for the charges.

This, the men allege, was designed to protect Creange from being sued.

A borough court official said Monday that the charges weren't dropped and that the case was being moved to a different venue.

The federal suit claims borough officials knew or should have known that Creange and the other officers involved in the brawl were prone to excessive force and assault. It accuses the borough of failing to require proper training and supervision to protect the civil rights of citizens.

Last year, after Connolly and the Rios brothers filed a notice of intent to sue, Creange's lawyer said they were drunk and had assaulted the officer, who was on crutches because of an ankle injury and suffered a gash across his chest and a cut on his head. She said there was no evidence that Creange was drunk.

Staff Writer Brian Aberback contributed to this article.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Paterson pays $10,000 to settle vaguely worded police abuse case.

On May 28, 2008, the City of Paterson paid $10,000 to a local man who had sued the City and Paterson Police officers John Plelan and Frank Motta in August 2007 for an alleged police "assault" occurring on October 6, 2005.

In his cryptically worded civil lawsuit, Alex Lopez claimed that the officers, along with other unnamed officers, "committed an assault and battery upon" him and "committed acts which constituted false imprisonment." No further details are provided in the lawsuit. Lopez was represented in his lawsuit by Alan Roth, Esq. of Bendit Weinstock, P.C. of West Orange.

The settlement agreement and the lawsuit referred to above are on-line here.

None of Lopez's allegations, whatever they are, have been proven or disproven in court. The entry of settlement agreement does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the City or any its officers. All that is known for sure is that Paterson, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Lopez $10,000 than take the matters to trial. Perhaps Paterson'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, Lopez's claims were true and Paterson 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

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Readington paid out $45,000 and $200,000 to settle two police abuse cases.

Although Thomas Wachendorf's and Christopher Strobel's brutality lawsuits against the Readington Township police have received a fair amount of publicity (see, e.g. the January 4, 2007 Star Ledger article, which is set forth at the foot of this posting), the amount of their settlements with Readington have not been publicly disclosed until now.

WACHENDORF

In a settlement reached January 23, 2007, Thomas J. Wachendorf settled his case against the Readington Township and officers Christopher DeWire and Scott Crater for $45,000. This figure has not previously been released probably because both Wachendorf and the Township agreed that "the terms and conditions of [their] settlement and the claims upon it was based shall remain confidential in so far as permitted by law." This confidentiality agreement cannot, however, defeat a citizen's right to gain access to it by way of an Open Public Records Act request.

Wachendorf's suit arose out of his encounter with police while driving on Holland Brook Road in Readington on the morning of May 2, 2004. According to Wachendorf's complaint, Officers DeWire and Crater, in two separate patrol cars, followed him into his driveway and exited their cars "with their handguns partially drawn." Then, Wachendorf alleges, DeWire and Crater ordered him out of his vehicle and then, seconds later, pulled him out of the car and "threw him onto the gravel driveway at the edge of the brick patio, and slapped a handcuff onto {his] left wrist." According to the complaint, Wachendorf did nothing illegal and did not resist arrest. Still, he claims, the fall to the ground caused him to strike his head and lose consciousness and break his glasses.

He was taken to the Readington police station and charged with Obstruction of Justice and Eluding police. After his release, Wachendorf claims that he received medical treatment for a fractured left wrist for several months after the encounter.

Wachendorf was represented in the lawsuit Steven P. Weissman, Esq. and Annmarie Pinarski, Esq. of Somerset.

STROBEL

In a settlement reached January 27, 2008, Christopher J. Strobel and Valerie Luckstone received $200,000 from General Star Indemnity Company, Readington Township's insurer. Unlike Wachendorf's settlement agreement, Strobel's and Luckstone's agreement does not contain a provision requiring confidentiality.

Strobel's and Luckstone's suit arose out of a March 26,2002 incident when Strobel was allegedly stopped by Readington Police officer Joseph Greco while he was walking home on the shoulder of Route 22. After giving Greco his driver license, Strobel reportedly began telling the officer "about the recent death of his infant daughter." During that conversation, two other patrol cars, driven by officers Scott Crater and Sebastian Donaruma arrive at the scene.

At this time, Strobel claims that since he had given Greco all the information he had asked for, he told Greco that "he was going to walk home." According to the complaint, when Strobel "turned and began walking, Officer Crater grabbed Strobel around the waist and threw him face first into one of the police cars." Then, with the help of Officers Greco and Donaruma, Strobel claims, Crater again "slammed [his face] into the rear window of the patrol car with sufficient force to shatter it and send Strobel's shoulder through the broken window."

Thereafter, Strobel claims, the officers punched him a few times and he fell to the ground and that when he told Donaruma that he was hurting his right arm, "he was kicked in the head and his face was ground into the pavement by the officer's boot."

The complaint states that Strobel was verbally abused by Officer Greco on the ride back to the police station and that when he asked for a lawyer, Officer Crater told him "[y]ou have no rights here, this is our town and don't you forget it." He was charged with Obstruction of Justice and Resisting Arrest.

Forty minutes later after Strobel was locked up, Readington Officer John Insabella allegedly went to Strobel's home and instructed his wife, Valerie Luckstone, to sign a Domestic Violence form "if she wanted her husband released from jail." Even though Luckstone allegedly maintained that no domestic violence had occurred, she signed the form "in order to get her husband out of jail."

Strobel and Luckstone alleged that after the incident, they were continued to be harassed by police. Also, they claim that the Readington Municipal Court repeatedly postponed Strobel's case and told him that if he "insisted on pleading innocent, he would just have to wait. When he did appear in court on April 24, 2003, Readington Prosecutor Robert Ballard reportedly told Strobel's lawyer that "if Mr. Strobel did not drop his notice of claim against the town, Mr. Strobel would go to jail." While Ballard delivered this alleged threat, Ballard was "surrounded by 5 Readington Township police officers."

Strobel and Luckstone were represented in the lawsuit by Gary S. Kull, Esq., Erik J. Pedersen, Esq. and Sara B. Garvey, Esq. of Gladstone.

The settlement agreements and the lawsuits referred to above are on-line here.


None of Wachendorf's, Strobel's or Luckstone's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Both settlement agreements expressly states that the payments do not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Township or any of the officers. All that is known for sure is that Readington and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Wachendorf $45,000 and Strobel and Luckstone $200,000 than take the matters to trial. Perhaps Readington'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 Wachendorf's, Strobel's and/or Luckstone's claims were true and Readington 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 here.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey
--
Third police-brutality lawsuit awaits resolution - One against Readington officers has been dismissed and another settled

Star-Ledger, The (Newark, NJ) - Thursday, January 4, 2007
Author: CLAIRE HEININGER, STAR-LEDGER STAFF

Two of the three civil lawsuits alleging brutality by Readington Township police officers have been resolved, with one dismissed in federal court and one settled out of court, according to court records.

The remaining lawsuit - filed in 2004 by a township resident who said officers slammed his face through a patrol car window, shattering the glass - is still pending in federal court, attorneys for both sides said this week, adding it was unclear how the other suits' resolution may affect their case.

Readington Township Police Chief James Paganessi declined to comment on the three lawsuits this week but has previously said they are without merit.

In dismissing the suit brought in April 2005 by Readington resident Walter Hrynyk against two officers and the police department, U.S. District Judge Garrett Brown Jr. found the officers did not violate Hrynyk's constitutional rights when they arrested him during a dispute with a neighbor in April 2003.

Told by the neighbor that Hrynyk was "very intoxicated" and had "a propensity for `shooting at houses,'" the officers "could therefore have drawn the reasonable inference that Mr. Hrynyk was armed and dangerous," Brown wrote in his 19-page decision, issued Dec. 12.

"In addition, Mr. Hrynyk refused to comply with the officers' request that he remain immobile, choosing instead to walk away from the officers in a yard littered with potential weapons," the judge wrote. "Under those circumstances, the officers' decision to subdue Mr. Hrynyk by pulling him to the ground and handcuffing him seems eminently reasonable to the court."

The second suit, filed in November 2004 by township resident Thomas Wachendorf, was settled out of court and terminated Dec. 1, according to federal court records that do not specify the amount of the settlement. Neither Wachendorf nor his attorney, Annmarie Pinarski, returned phone calls seeking comment. Richard Cushing and Deborah Rosenthal, the attorneys representing the officers, also did not respond to calls for comment.

Wachendorf had claimed in the lawsuit he was treated for a concussion, a fractured hand and various bruises and abrasions when two officers threw him onto his gravel driveway after pulling him over.

Still pending before U.S. District Judge Mary Cooper is the third lawsuit, filed by Readington resident Christopher Strobel in March 2004. The two sides are awaiting Cooper's ruling on whether to hear testimony or to render a summary judgment, attorneys in the case said this week.

Strobel was walking on the shoulder of Route 22 when he was stopped by an officer, who was joined by two others as Strobel began to tell the officer about the recent death of his infant son, according to his complaint.

Offered a ride home three times, Strobel told the officers he preferred to walk, and was then allegedly grabbed by an officer and thrown face first into one of the police cars, shattering the rear window. At the police station, he asked for a lawyer, but was told, "You have no rights here; this is our town and don't you forget it," he said in the complaint.

His lawyer, Gary Kull, said the circumstances of Strobel's case distanced it substantially from Hrynyk's dismissal, which he said "should not" impact the judge's decision. The key element the two cases have in common, Kull said, was the police department's failure to investigate the complaints brought by both alleged victims.

"The problem with the Readington Police Department is their officers can do no wrong," Kull said. "This is a citizen walking down the street in tears and winds up with his face through the window."

Eric Harrison, the lawyer representing the three officers named in the lawsuit, said he could not discuss the merits of the case but said the resolution of the other two lawsuits does establish a positive pattern on the police department's behalf.

"Our position is clear: They didn't commit any violations in those cases, and they didn't commit any violations in this case," Harrison said. "It could have an impact."