Monday, March 15, 2010

Red Bank pays $290,000 to settle case of alleged police brutality

On October 27, 2009, Red Bank Borough (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $290,000 to a Middletown man who claimed that he was abused by police after the Borough's July 3, 2006 "Fireworks on the Navisink" celebration.

The man, Jonathan Wilson, said that the event was peaceful until certain individuals caused trouble that resulted in the police arresting more than a dozen persons. Wilson claims that Borough police officers "became verbally and physically abusive, not only to those individuals involved in the fracas, but also to innocent bystanders such as" Wilson. Wilson claims that he although he obeyed the officers commands to disperse, "several individuals in [his] vicinity directed mildly disparaging comments to toward the officers."

Wilson further alleges that after he and a friend had walked several blocks away from the area from which they were dispersed, Red Bank Patrolman Stephen Adams approached in a black, unmarked car, charged Wilson, and "violently forced [his] hands behind his back and threw him, face-first, to the ground" causing face and head lacerations "as well as severe dental injuries." He claims to have been taken to police headquarters where he was "pushed, shoved and cursed by numerous other police officers" and was refused medical treatment even though he asked for it.

After receiving medical treatment, Wilson claims to have gone back to the police station to file a complaint against Adams. He alleges that the officers at the station told him that they would "kick his ass" and jail him if he insisted on filing a complaint.

The matter is captioned Wilson v. Borough of Red Bank et al Civil No. 3:07-cv-00953. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here. Wilson's attorney was Robert F. Varady of Union.

The settlement agreement contains a provision requiring Wilson 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 Wilson's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $290,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Red Bank or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Red Bank and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Wilson $290,000 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.