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