Friday, March 12, 2010

Rabbinical student accepts $50K settlement from Jackson and Lakewood cops

On December 7, 2009, Jackson and Lakewood Townships (both in Ocean County) each agreed to pay $25,000 to a then 18-year old Rabbinical student who claimed that SWAT teams improperly entered his dormitory room and held him at gunpoint during the early morning hours of May 9, 2007. The Ocean County Sheriff's Office, which was also allegedly involved in the raid, reportedly paid nothing toward the settlement.

The student, Yeuda Palok, an Israeli citizen, claims that he was sleeping in his dormitory room at the Hor Hatalmud Rabbinical College in Lakewood when SWAT units from the Lakewood and Jackson Police Departments and the Ocean County Sheriffs Office entered the dormitory at 3:30 a.m. Palok alleges that the police, dressed in full riot gear and armed with automatic weapons, "systematically herded" Palok and other students into the hallway and ordered them to stand facing the wall with their hands behind their heads.

According to the complaint, the police were investigating "a prank telephone call to the Lakewood police station" and were screaming obscenities at the students demanding that those responsible for placing the call "identify themselves and confess to the crime."

Palok claims that the police took him into a separate room and interrogated him out of the presence of the other students. Thereafter, he reportedly was taken back into the hallway and made to stand for nearly an hour facing the wall while the police "mocked, ridiculed and humiliated" him.

According to the complaint, "further investigation revealed that the prank telephone call had not come from the college but did, in fact, emanate from a another location in the same neighborhood." Palok claims that he had not, as of the date of his civil lawsuit, been charged with a crime.

The matter is captioned Palok v. Jackson Township et al Civil No. 3:08-cv-02047. The lawsuit and settlement agreements are on-line here. Palok's attorney was Robert F. Varady of Union.

Both settlement agreements contains provisions 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 Palok's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $50,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Jackson, Lakewood Ocean County or any of their officials. All that is known for sure is that defendants and their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Palok $50,000 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.