Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Clementon pays $850,000 to settle police brutality claim

On October 27, 2009 Clementon Borough (Camden County) agreed to pay $850,000 to a man who had sued several Borough police officers who he claimed beat him during an August 25, 2006 traffic stop.

According to court filings, Clementon Police Sergeants Charles Grover and Randall Freiling along with Officers Gordon Schaeffer, Christopher Mackey and Alfred Higginbotham participated in a traffic stop involving Plaintiff Dennis Wiggins' van. Wiggins claimed that after the officers were rude to him and yelled profanities at him, that he became fearful and called 911 to request that a supervisor respond to the scene. No supervisors were reportedly available.

Thereafter, Wiggins claimed that he was issued a careless driving ticket and told he could leave the scene. But, Wiggins alleges, after he drove about thirty feet, Sergeant Grover opened the door of the van and exclaimed that Wiggins had run over his foot. After ordering Wiggins out of the van, the officers allegedly handcuffed him, dragged him at least ten feet by the handcuffs and stomped on his while he was on the ground.

The officers, however, claimed that Wiggins had intentionally dragged Sergeant Grover over two hundred fifty feet with his lower body trapped under Wiggins' vehicle. Wiggins was arrested and held for nearly twenty-four hours under $100,000 bail.

According to the lawsuit, Wiggins was tried on August 1, 2007 and was completely exonerated" and the trial judge reportedly expressed his belief that Mr. Wiggins' arrest was premised on race discrimination and that Defendant Officers had lied during trial.

Wiggins and his wife, Ericka Wiggins, filed suit on October 19, 2007 claiming a violation of constitutional rights, assault and battery, false imprisonment and other torts.

The matter is captioned Wiggins v.Clementon Police Department, Civil No. 07-5033 (RBK). The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here. The Wiggins' attorney was Ari R. Karpf of Bensalem, PA.

None of Wiggins' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $850,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Clementon or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that defendants and their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Wiggins $850,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' 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 the defendants 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.