Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Berkeley pays $110,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On January 13, 2010, the Township of Berkeley (Ocean County) agreed to pay $110,000 to a Bayville man who sued members of the Berkeley Police Department for allegedly beating him and arresting him without probable cause.

In his suit, Michael Forte said that on March 7, 2007, his father, Pasquale Forte, received a call from Pasty Forte (Pasquale's son and Michael's brother) informing him that the police were at Patsy's Korman Road apartment. In response to the call, Pasquale and and Michael drove to Patsy's apartment.

Michael Forte alleges that upon arrival he was confronted by several Berkeley officers and was "without provocation . . . severely beaten" and arrested by Officers Patrick Stesner, Tammy Shinton, John M. Fosbre and Anthony Sgro. He further alleges that his handcuffs were applied too tightly and that when he was taken to the police station his requests for medical treatment and to loosen his handcuffs were ignored.

Forte said that he was charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct and lodged in the Ocean County Jail and released on bail the following day. He also said that the police "authored investigation reports containing false information . . . in order to shield themselves from criminal and/or civil liability." According to the complaint, the "criminal proceedings brought against [Forte] terminated in his favor."

Also named in the suit were Berkeley Police Chief John Weinlein and Sergeants James Blair, Curtis Drumhiller and Peter Kavitt.

The case is captioned Forte v. Berkeley, Federal Case No. 3:08-cv-04717 and Forte's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Forte's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $110,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Berkeley or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Berkeley or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Forte $110,000 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.