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