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