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.