Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Freehold Township pays $25,000 to man who claims he was maliciously prosecuted

On November 17, 2009, Michael Rogers of Freehold, New Jersey, accepted $25,000 as full settlement of his false arrest and malicious prosecution claim against the Township of Freehold (Monmouth County) and Michael Denham, who serves as a Freehold Township Police Officer.

Rogers' civil lawsuits, filed March 10, 2008 and February 27, 2009, arose out a July 14, 2005 incident that occurred at Escondido's Restaurant at 402 West Main Street, Freehold. According to the lawsuits, Rogers was lawfully at the restaurant when Denham detained him "without a reasonable justifiable suspicion of any criminal activity." Rogers goes on to claim that Denham arrested him in a "violent manner" without an arrest warrant and "falsely and maliciously charged [him] with resisting arrest and aggravated assault on a police officer." Rogers claims that a jury acquitted him of the charges on February 28, 2007.

On July 14, 2008, United State District Court Judge Mary L. Cooper dismissed Rogers' claims of false arrest and false imprisonment because the suit wasn't filed until after the two-year statute of limitations had expired. The malicious prosecution claim, however, was not barred by the statute of limitations because that claim arose on February 27, 2007, the date of Rogers' acquittal.

The cases are captioned Rogers v. Freehold et al, Case No. 3:08-cv-02080-MLC-LHG and Rogers v. Denham, Case No. 3:09-cv-01936-MLC-DEA. Rogers' lawyer in both cases was Pablo N. Blanco of South Orange. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a provision requiring both Rogers and the Township from disclosing the terms of the settlement. Fortunately, however, such "confidentiality clauses" do not trump the public's right to know under the Open Public Records Act.

None of Rogers's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Township or any of the police officers. All that is known for sure is that Freehold and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Rogers and his lawyer $25,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps Freehold'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 Freehold 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.