Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Paterson pays $30,000 to settle false arrest claim

On November 2, 2009, the City of Paterson (Passaic County) agreed to pay $30,000 to a Bergen County man whose lawsuit claimed that Paterson police officers stopped his car "without reasonable suspicion" and "in part because of his race," illegally searched it and falsely arrested him "in an effort to cover-up their wrongdoing."

In his complaint, Plaintiff Gerald D Graddy named Detective Sergeant Daniel Rooney, Detective Ivette Otero and Detective Latrenta Grayson as the officers who improperly stopped his car on January 4, 2008. He also claimed that the Paterson Police Department has "a custom or practice of tolerating widespread civil rights abuses by its police officers against African Americans" and that the department's Internal Affairs Unit "either ignores complaints or fails to take any corrective action other than taking the complaint."

The matter is captioned Graddy v. City of Paterson et al, Civil No. 2:08-cv-03888. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here. Graddy was represented by Louis A. Zayas of Newark.

The settlement agreement contains a provision requiring the parties to keep the amount and terms of the settlement confidential. Fortunately, however, such "confidentiality clauses" do not trump the public's right to know under the Open Public Records Act.

None of Graddy's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $30,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Paterson 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 Graddy $30,000 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.