Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Millville pays $100,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On February 9, 2010, the City of Millville (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $100,000 to a Vineland woman who sued members of the Millville Police Department for allegedly beating her.

In her suit, Sheila Stevenson said that on February 3, 2008, former officer Carlo Drogo punched her in the face, head, arms, legs and other parts of her body after stopping her as she rode her bicycle. Also named in her suit were Millville Patrolmen Sean Guy and Edmund Ansara

According to a December 13, 2008 article in the News of Cumberland County ("Suit filed against former Millville police officer," by Joe Green), Stevenson was charged with possession of cocaine, failing to deliver a controlled dangerous substance to police, resisting arrest, obstruction of justice and giving false information to an officer in connection with the incident.

Police dash-camera footage of the alleged beating are on various Internet sites in including You Tube.

The case is captioned Stevenson v. City of Millville, Federal Case No. 09-cv-3508 and Stevenson's attorney was Harold B. Shapiro of Vineland. The settlement agreement is on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms. Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Stevenson's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $100,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Millville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Millville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Stevenson $100,000 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.