Monday, January 19, 2009

Bogota pays $115,000 to settle police assault case.

On September 29, 2008, Bogota Borough in Bergen County and/or its insurer paid $115,000 to three men who claimed the Bogota police assaulted them after a May 2005 bar fight that involved an off-duty officer.

The settlement agreement, which contains a confidentiality clause, is on-line here and the lawsuit is described in a May 15, 2007 newspaper article that is posted below.

None of the allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The entry of settlement agreement does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Borough or any its officers. All that is known for sure is that Bogota, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the men $115,000 than take the matters to trial. Perhaps Bogota'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 Bogota 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, click here.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey
-------------------------------------
Bogota police sued over brawl at bar 3 men say drunken off-duty cop started fight

Record, The (Hackensack, NJ) - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Author: PETER J. SAMPSON, STAFF WRITER

Three men arrested in a barroom brawl are suing Bogota , its Police Department and four officers in federal court for $1 million, claiming they were victims of an assault and coverup.

The men claim Officer Daniel Creange was intoxicated when he picked the May 2005 fight after assuming that one of them had bumped into him while he was off duty at the 101 Pub on Queen Anne Road.

Several other officers joined in, leaving David Connolly of Ridgefield Park and brothers Mark and Matthew Rios of Hackensack with "serious, permanent and disfiguring injuries," alleges the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Newark.

Borough Attorney Joseph Monaghan declined to comment on the suit.

Creange, an 11-year veteran, has denied instigating the brawl. He is appealing an eight-week suspension without pay for threatening one of the men, contending the hearing panel was biased and its punishment overly harsh.

Connolly and Mark Rios were taken into custody and charged with simple assault following the melee — a move the plaintiffs allege was designed to cover up abuses by Creange.

Although he was obviously intoxicated and agitated, the suit says, Officers Craig Lynch and Jerome Fowler and Detective Robert Piterski allowed Creange into the restricted lockup area, where he threatened to kill or otherwise harm Connolly.

The suit contends the charges against the men were dismissed in open court in December 2005 after an internal affairs probe. However, the plaintiffs claim Creange demanded that the criminal complaints be reinstated and that these could be dismissed only if they stipulated that probable cause existed for the charges.

This, the men allege, was designed to protect Creange from being sued.

A borough court official said Monday that the charges weren't dropped and that the case was being moved to a different venue.

The federal suit claims borough officials knew or should have known that Creange and the other officers involved in the brawl were prone to excessive force and assault. It accuses the borough of failing to require proper training and supervision to protect the civil rights of citizens.

Last year, after Connolly and the Rios brothers filed a notice of intent to sue, Creange's lawyer said they were drunk and had assaulted the officer, who was on crutches because of an ankle injury and suffered a gash across his chest and a cut on his head. She said there was no evidence that Creange was drunk.

Staff Writer Brian Aberback contributed to this article.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Paterson pays $10,000 to settle vaguely worded police abuse case.

On May 28, 2008, the City of Paterson paid $10,000 to a local man who had sued the City and Paterson Police officers John Plelan and Frank Motta in August 2007 for an alleged police "assault" occurring on October 6, 2005.

In his cryptically worded civil lawsuit, Alex Lopez claimed that the officers, along with other unnamed officers, "committed an assault and battery upon" him and "committed acts which constituted false imprisonment." No further details are provided in the lawsuit. Lopez was represented in his lawsuit by Alan Roth, Esq. of Bendit Weinstock, P.C. of West Orange.

The settlement agreement and the lawsuit referred to above are on-line here.

None of Lopez's allegations, whatever they are, have been proven or disproven in court. The entry of settlement agreement does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the City or any its officers. All that is known for sure is that Paterson, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Lopez $10,000 than take the matters to trial. Perhaps Paterson'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, Lopez's claims were true and Paterson 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, click here.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Readington paid out $45,000 and $200,000 to settle two police abuse cases.

Although Thomas Wachendorf's and Christopher Strobel's brutality lawsuits against the Readington Township police have received a fair amount of publicity (see, e.g. the January 4, 2007 Star Ledger article, which is set forth at the foot of this posting), the amount of their settlements with Readington have not been publicly disclosed until now.

WACHENDORF

In a settlement reached January 23, 2007, Thomas J. Wachendorf settled his case against the Readington Township and officers Christopher DeWire and Scott Crater for $45,000. This figure has not previously been released probably because both Wachendorf and the Township agreed that "the terms and conditions of [their] settlement and the claims upon it was based shall remain confidential in so far as permitted by law." This confidentiality agreement cannot, however, defeat a citizen's right to gain access to it by way of an Open Public Records Act request.

Wachendorf's suit arose out of his encounter with police while driving on Holland Brook Road in Readington on the morning of May 2, 2004. According to Wachendorf's complaint, Officers DeWire and Crater, in two separate patrol cars, followed him into his driveway and exited their cars "with their handguns partially drawn." Then, Wachendorf alleges, DeWire and Crater ordered him out of his vehicle and then, seconds later, pulled him out of the car and "threw him onto the gravel driveway at the edge of the brick patio, and slapped a handcuff onto {his] left wrist." According to the complaint, Wachendorf did nothing illegal and did not resist arrest. Still, he claims, the fall to the ground caused him to strike his head and lose consciousness and break his glasses.

He was taken to the Readington police station and charged with Obstruction of Justice and Eluding police. After his release, Wachendorf claims that he received medical treatment for a fractured left wrist for several months after the encounter.

Wachendorf was represented in the lawsuit Steven P. Weissman, Esq. and Annmarie Pinarski, Esq. of Somerset.

STROBEL

In a settlement reached January 27, 2008, Christopher J. Strobel and Valerie Luckstone received $200,000 from General Star Indemnity Company, Readington Township's insurer. Unlike Wachendorf's settlement agreement, Strobel's and Luckstone's agreement does not contain a provision requiring confidentiality.

Strobel's and Luckstone's suit arose out of a March 26,2002 incident when Strobel was allegedly stopped by Readington Police officer Joseph Greco while he was walking home on the shoulder of Route 22. After giving Greco his driver license, Strobel reportedly began telling the officer "about the recent death of his infant daughter." During that conversation, two other patrol cars, driven by officers Scott Crater and Sebastian Donaruma arrive at the scene.

At this time, Strobel claims that since he had given Greco all the information he had asked for, he told Greco that "he was going to walk home." According to the complaint, when Strobel "turned and began walking, Officer Crater grabbed Strobel around the waist and threw him face first into one of the police cars." Then, with the help of Officers Greco and Donaruma, Strobel claims, Crater again "slammed [his face] into the rear window of the patrol car with sufficient force to shatter it and send Strobel's shoulder through the broken window."

Thereafter, Strobel claims, the officers punched him a few times and he fell to the ground and that when he told Donaruma that he was hurting his right arm, "he was kicked in the head and his face was ground into the pavement by the officer's boot."

The complaint states that Strobel was verbally abused by Officer Greco on the ride back to the police station and that when he asked for a lawyer, Officer Crater told him "[y]ou have no rights here, this is our town and don't you forget it." He was charged with Obstruction of Justice and Resisting Arrest.

Forty minutes later after Strobel was locked up, Readington Officer John Insabella allegedly went to Strobel's home and instructed his wife, Valerie Luckstone, to sign a Domestic Violence form "if she wanted her husband released from jail." Even though Luckstone allegedly maintained that no domestic violence had occurred, she signed the form "in order to get her husband out of jail."

Strobel and Luckstone alleged that after the incident, they were continued to be harassed by police. Also, they claim that the Readington Municipal Court repeatedly postponed Strobel's case and told him that if he "insisted on pleading innocent, he would just have to wait. When he did appear in court on April 24, 2003, Readington Prosecutor Robert Ballard reportedly told Strobel's lawyer that "if Mr. Strobel did not drop his notice of claim against the town, Mr. Strobel would go to jail." While Ballard delivered this alleged threat, Ballard was "surrounded by 5 Readington Township police officers."

Strobel and Luckstone were represented in the lawsuit by Gary S. Kull, Esq., Erik J. Pedersen, Esq. and Sara B. Garvey, Esq. of Gladstone.

The settlement agreements and the lawsuits referred to above are on-line here.


None of Wachendorf's, Strobel's or Luckstone's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Both settlement agreements expressly states that the payments do not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Township or any of the officers. All that is known for sure is that Readington and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Wachendorf $45,000 and Strobel and Luckstone $200,000 than take the matters to trial. Perhaps Readington'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 Wachendorf's, Strobel's and/or Luckstone's claims were true and Readington 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.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey
--
Third police-brutality lawsuit awaits resolution - One against Readington officers has been dismissed and another settled

Star-Ledger, The (Newark, NJ) - Thursday, January 4, 2007
Author: CLAIRE HEININGER, STAR-LEDGER STAFF

Two of the three civil lawsuits alleging brutality by Readington Township police officers have been resolved, with one dismissed in federal court and one settled out of court, according to court records.

The remaining lawsuit - filed in 2004 by a township resident who said officers slammed his face through a patrol car window, shattering the glass - is still pending in federal court, attorneys for both sides said this week, adding it was unclear how the other suits' resolution may affect their case.

Readington Township Police Chief James Paganessi declined to comment on the three lawsuits this week but has previously said they are without merit.

In dismissing the suit brought in April 2005 by Readington resident Walter Hrynyk against two officers and the police department, U.S. District Judge Garrett Brown Jr. found the officers did not violate Hrynyk's constitutional rights when they arrested him during a dispute with a neighbor in April 2003.

Told by the neighbor that Hrynyk was "very intoxicated" and had "a propensity for `shooting at houses,'" the officers "could therefore have drawn the reasonable inference that Mr. Hrynyk was armed and dangerous," Brown wrote in his 19-page decision, issued Dec. 12.

"In addition, Mr. Hrynyk refused to comply with the officers' request that he remain immobile, choosing instead to walk away from the officers in a yard littered with potential weapons," the judge wrote. "Under those circumstances, the officers' decision to subdue Mr. Hrynyk by pulling him to the ground and handcuffing him seems eminently reasonable to the court."

The second suit, filed in November 2004 by township resident Thomas Wachendorf, was settled out of court and terminated Dec. 1, according to federal court records that do not specify the amount of the settlement. Neither Wachendorf nor his attorney, Annmarie Pinarski, returned phone calls seeking comment. Richard Cushing and Deborah Rosenthal, the attorneys representing the officers, also did not respond to calls for comment.

Wachendorf had claimed in the lawsuit he was treated for a concussion, a fractured hand and various bruises and abrasions when two officers threw him onto his gravel driveway after pulling him over.

Still pending before U.S. District Judge Mary Cooper is the third lawsuit, filed by Readington resident Christopher Strobel in March 2004. The two sides are awaiting Cooper's ruling on whether to hear testimony or to render a summary judgment, attorneys in the case said this week.

Strobel was walking on the shoulder of Route 22 when he was stopped by an officer, who was joined by two others as Strobel began to tell the officer about the recent death of his infant son, according to his complaint.

Offered a ride home three times, Strobel told the officers he preferred to walk, and was then allegedly grabbed by an officer and thrown face first into one of the police cars, shattering the rear window. At the police station, he asked for a lawyer, but was told, "You have no rights here; this is our town and don't you forget it," he said in the complaint.

His lawyer, Gary Kull, said the circumstances of Strobel's case distanced it substantially from Hrynyk's dismissal, which he said "should not" impact the judge's decision. The key element the two cases have in common, Kull said, was the police department's failure to investigate the complaints brought by both alleged victims.

"The problem with the Readington Police Department is their officers can do no wrong," Kull said. "This is a citizen walking down the street in tears and winds up with his face through the window."

Eric Harrison, the lawyer representing the three officers named in the lawsuit, said he could not discuss the merits of the case but said the resolution of the other two lawsuits does establish a positive pattern on the police department's behalf.

"Our position is clear: They didn't commit any violations in those cases, and they didn't commit any violations in this case," Harrison said. "It could have an impact."

Monday, January 5, 2009

Rutgers-Camden pays pro se litigant $4,000 to settle false arrest case

On October 7, 2008, Rutgers University agreed to pay a pro litigant (i.e. a plaintiff who sued without using a lawyer) $4,000 to settle his false arrest claim.

On February 23, 2005, Rutgers Police received a report that a black male was in the Rutgers-Camden campus law school library with a baby stroller and that he was placing books in the bottom of the stroller. Several days later, on March 1, 2005, a black male with a baby stroller, later identified as Salahuddin F. Smart, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, entered the Rutgers Camden Law School building. When Rutgers police located Smart, who had an infant in the baby carriage, in the law school library, they told him to gather his things and to come with the officers to the lobby of the building.

When they were in the lobby, the police claim that Smart became loud, belligerent and uncooperative when they asked him for his identification. Smart denies this, but admits admits that he did not cooperate with police because he believed it was his legal right to walk away and that the officers had no right to demand he produce physical proof of his identification.

After being asked to leave, Smart left the building and then placed a call to 9-1-1 to report that he was being harassed by the Rutgers Camden officers. While the police claim that Smart thrust his cellphone in a Sergeant's face and that the infant was not properly attired for the cold weather, Smart claims that the police followed him out of the library and taunted him by threatening to call DYFS for allegedly not dressing the infant warmly enough.

Sergeant Louis Capelli then handcuffed Plaintiff and charged with disorderly conduct and defiant trespass. After processing, Smart was permitted to leave.

The settlement agreement, which requires the parties to keep the terms and the amount of the Settlement Agreement "strictly confidential" is available, along with a court opinion on the case, at

http://www.lpcnj.org/OGTF/RutgersSmart.pdf

None of Smart's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $4,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the Rutgers police officers. All that is known for sure is that Rutgers, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Smart $4,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps Rutgers' 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 Smart's claims were true and Rutgers 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 www.njlp.org

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

Sunday, January 4, 2009

East Brunswick pays $7,500 to woman after euthanizing her Rottweiler

In October 2008, East Brunswick Township officials agreed to pay a local woman $7,500 to settle her civil suit claiming that the Township's Animal Control Officer used "duress and coercion" to get her consent to euthanize Turbo, her pet Rottweiler.

In her lawsuit, the woman, Lillian Passaro of East Brunswick claimed that she was injured on December 9, 2006 "while interacting with Turbo." After receiving medical treatment for her injury, she alleges that Animal Control Officer David Blumig, who apparently was notified of the injury by the treating physician, arrived at her door two days later. According to the suit, Blumig obtained Passaro's signature on a "surrender form" even though he allegedly could plainly see that she was "under the influence of a prescribed narcotic pain medication which impaired her ability to process information or to make a knowing and willful decision."

According to the lawsuit, filed by Toms River Attorney Isabelle R. Strauss, Blumig left Passaro's home with Turbo and then had the dog euthanized without holding a hearing. Passaro had Turbo since he was 8 weeks old and described him as friendly and loved by Passaro, her friends and family.

The settlement agreement specifies that the $7,500 payment includes the Passaro's attorney fees and costs of court and requires her and her lawyer to refrain from "any speech or conduct that disparages" the Township or Blumig.

The Township and Blumig were represented in the case by Brian J. Chabarek of Hoagland, Longo, Moran, Dunst & Doukas of New Brunswick.

The civil complaint and the settlement agreement are on-line at
http://www.lpcnj.org/OGTF/EastBrunswickPassaro.pdf

All of the above allegations above were taken from Passaro's civil complaint and none of them have been proven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Blumig, who is referred to as "the non-settling Defendant" or the Township. All that is known for sure is that East Brunswick and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Passaro and her lawyer $7,500 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the Township'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 Passaro's claims were true and the Township 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 www.njlp.org

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey

Friday, January 2, 2009

Paterson settles police beating allegations for $190,000

In June 2008, Paterson city officials agreed to pay a local man $190,000 to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit that originated from alleged police beating on September 3, 2001.

According to the federal complaint, plaintiff Terry Hanna, of East 24th Street, left his house and walked toward his mother's home after having an argument with his wife, Elizabeth. While he was walking, two Paterson police officers reportedly stopped Hanna and told him that his wife had reported domestic violence and that they were going to take him back to his house to see if his wife wanted to sign the formal complaint.

When the officers arrived at Hanna's home, with Hanna handcuffed in the back seat of their police cruiser, Hanna's wife allegedly requested that the police let Hanna go and that she did not want a restraining order against him. Instead of releasing Hanna, the officers reportedly took him back to the police station "to check if he had any outstanding warrants."

Back at the station, the two officers allegedly put Hanna in a holding cell and, while his hands were still cuffed behind him, beat him severely with the end of a nightstick or flashlight, causing him "to pass out with severe internal injuries." When Hanna regained consciousness the next morning, he and several other prisoners allegedly pleaded with two other officers to take Hanna to the hospital. After "an excessive period of time" Hanna was taken to Saint Joseph's Medical center where he was allegedly diagnosed with "blunt abdominal trauma, intra-abdominal bleed, meseteric and retroperitoneal hematosas." According to the complaint, Hanna lost 1.4 liters of blood and part of his colon had to be removed.

Police allegedly charged Hanna with assault and resisting arrest and set bail at $25,000. According to the civil complaint, however, all the charges against Hanna were "summarily dismissed" by the court. The settlement agreement discloses Officers Claude Mineo, Fabrizio Scerra, Taithram Khadaroo and Miguel Oquendo as named defendants in the suit.

The civil complaint and the settlement agreement, which I received after filing an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, are on-line at

http://www.lpcnj.org/OGTF/PatersonHanna.pdf

All of the allegations above are taken from Terry Hanna's civil complaint. None of those allegation have been proven in court. And, the settlement agreement expressly states that the $190,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the City or any of its officers or employees. All that is known for sure is that Paterson and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Hanna and his lawyer, Richard Goldstein of East Orange, $190,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the 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, perhaps Hanna's claims were true and the 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. Sometimes I run across settlements that may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers. For more information on the Libertarian Party, visit www.njlp.org

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey