Friday, January 2, 2009

Paterson settles police beating allegations for $190,000

In June 2008, Paterson city officials agreed to pay a local man $190,000 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit that originated from alleged police beating on September 3, 2001.

According to the federal complaint, plaintiff Terry Hanna, of East 24th Street, left his house and walked toward his mother's home after having an argument with his wife, Elizabeth. While he was walking, two Paterson police officers reportedly stopped Hanna and told him that his wife had reported domestic violence and that they were going to take him back to his house to see if his wife wanted to sign the formal complaint.

When the officers arrived at Hanna's home, with Hanna handcuffed in the back seat of their police cruiser, Hanna's wife allegedly requested that the police let Hanna go and that she did not want a restraining order against him. Instead of releasing Hanna, the officers reportedly took him back to the police station "to check if he had any outstanding warrants."

Back at the station, the two officers allegedly put Hanna in a holding cell and, while his hands were still cuffed behind him, beat him severely with the end of a nightstick or flashlight, causing him "to pass out with severe internal injuries." When Hanna regained consciousness the next morning, he and several other prisoners allegedly pleaded with two other officers to take Hanna to the hospital. After "an excessive period of time" Hanna was taken to Saint Joseph's Medical center where he was allegedly diagnosed with "blunt abdominal trauma, intra-abdominal bleed, meseteric and retroperitoneal hematosas." According to the complaint, Hanna lost 1.4 liters of blood and part of his colon had to be removed.

Police allegedly charged Hanna with assault and resisting arrest and set bail at $25,000. According to the civil complaint, however, all the charges against Hanna were "summarily dismissed" by the court. The settlement agreement discloses Officers Claude Mineo, Fabrizio Scerra, Taithram Khadaroo and Miguel Oquendo as named defendants in the suit.

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

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

All of the allegations above are taken from Terry Hanna's civil complaint. None of those allegation have been proven in court. And, the settlement agreement expressly states that the $190,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the City or any of its officers or employees. All that is known for sure is that Paterson and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Hanna and his lawyer, Richard Goldstein of East Orange, $190,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the 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 Hanna's claims were true and the 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. Sometimes I run across settlements that may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. For more information on the Libertarian Party, visit www.njlp.org

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey