Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Elizabeth pays $10,000 to settle police brutality claim

On November 6, 2006, the City of Elizabeth (Union County) agreed to pay $10,000 to a Bronx, New York man who had sued the City claiming that Elizabeth police officers beat him and let him go without arresting him.

In his complaint, Plaintiff Jose Luna claimed that on August 21, 2005, he was a passenger in a car driven by his boss who fled when police attempted to pull the car over. After the car overheated, the driver allegedly fled on foot while Luna remained seated in the passenger seat.

Luna claimed that Elizabeth Police Office Raul DeLaPrida opened the passenger door, "dragged [Luna] out and threw him on the ground" even though Luna did not resist. DeLaPrida and other unnamed officers then reportedly handcuffed Luna, kicked him in the head and "grabbed him by the hair and dragged him along the side of the roadway."

Thereafter, Luna claimed, he explained to the officers that he had never been involved with the law and was a veteran of the United States Navy. After confirming that he was indeed a Navy veteran, one of the officers reportedly "did punch [Luna] in the stomach and sarcastically thanked him for serving his country."

Luna claims that police elected not to arrest him but took him to the hospital where he was treated for the injuries he received from the police.

The matter is captioned Luna v. City of Elizabeth et al, Civil No. 2:06-cv-00500. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here. Luna was represented by Robert B. Woodruff of Morristown.

None of Luna's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $10,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Elizabeth 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 the Luna $10,000 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.