Saturday, September 12, 2009

Atlantic City pays $40,000 to police abuse claimant

In November 2008, Seth Rouzier of Bridgeport, Connecticut, accepted $40,000 in settlement of his claim against Atlantic City Police Officers Frank Timek and Richard Lasco. In his lawsuit, Rouzier alleged that the two officers physically assaulted him in connection with their November 5, 2005 investigation of an incident at the Hard Rock Cafe on the Boardwalk at Virginia Avenue.

According to Rouzier's lawsuit, the Hard Rock's manager called police after a patron had kicked the front door. Rouzier contents that he was waiting for a food takeout order at the Hard Rock when one of the officers placed him a choke hold, wrestled him to the floor and handcuffed him. Rouzier further alleges that Officers Timek and Lasco put him the back seat of their patrol car, took him into an alley, sprayed him in the face with pepper spray and "said something to the effect of 'welcome to Atlantic City.'"

When they finally got to the police station, Rouzier's lawsuit contends, the two officers dragged him out of the patrol car by his ankles. Since he was still handcuffed, that "caused him to flop down hard on the concrete floor." Thereafter, he alleges that the officers stood him up and "pushed him hard into a wall at least three times."

The case is captioned Rouzier v. Timek et al, Case No. 2:07-cv-5218. Rouzier's lawyer was Raoul Bostillo of Union City. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

The Settlement Agreement contains a confidential clause that requires Rouzier to not disclose the amount of the settlement. Fortunately for the public, such confidential clauses are trumped by the public's right to know.

According to a July 31, 2008 Press of Atlantic City article, Officer Lasco was involved in a previous lawsuit which Atlantic City settled for $95,000. According to the Press article, Sara Mulrooney alleged in her lawsuit that Lasco and another officer, Russell Bouffard, gave her a prescription painkiller which caused her to fall face-first onto the Boardwalk. According to her suit, Lasco and Bouffard invited Mulrooney, who was 20 years old at the time, into their patrol car and gave her Tramadol, a strong painkiller. According to the suit, the pair of officers, once their shift ended, took the underaged girl to a nightclub where the girl drank alcohol in front of the officers. The Press reports that city officials confirmed that Lasco and Bouffard received, respectively, 40 and 180 day unpaid suspensions due to the incident.

None of Rouzier's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $40,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the city or either of the police officers. All that is known for sure is that Atlantic City, and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Rouzier $40,000 than take the matter 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, perhaps the 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.