Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Winslow Township pays $280,000 to settle police abuse suit filed by stroke victim

On January 27, 2010, the Township of Winslow (Camden County) agreed to pay $280,000 to a Sicklerville man who had sued the Township Police Department for assault, false arrest and violation of his constitutional rights.

In his suit, George Snider alleges that he was driving his car on May 25, 2005, shortly after noon, when he suffered a cerebral stroke, which caused him to experience an extreme headache, paralysis of his left side, mental confusion and slurred speech. The stroke allegedly caused Snider to lose control of his car, jump a curb and strike a police car.

The driver of the police car Snider struck, Officer Anthony D. Ortiz, reportedly questioned Snider as to whether he had been drinking. Snider allegedly responded that he had not been drinking but had a severe pain in his head. According to the lawsuit, Ortiz "forcibly removed [Snider] from his motor vehicle dragging him out from behind the wheel and throwing him onto the ground, face first, . . . in such a way that [Snider] was unable to shield himself from having his face and teeth strike the ground." This allegedly resulted in Snider having "several teeth forcibly dislodged from his jaw" as well as suffering a ripped rotator cuff.

Ortiz and other officers then allegedly handcuffed Snider and kneed him in the back and pushed him against a vehicle such that its windshield wipers struck his face. They then allegedly threw him face down in the back of the police car.

A short time later, Snider alleged that the Winslow Township EMS squad came to the scene and diagnosed him as having possibly suffered a stroke. He was transported to Virtua Hospital and was treated, but later discovered that his wallet and eyeglasses had been taken at the accident scene.

Other Winslow officers named in the suit were Chief Anthony Bello, Lieutenant Robert Boisvert, Sergeant Robert Stimelski and officers Michael Gingrich, Robin Fanelle and Michael Parker.

The case is captioned Snider v. Township of Winslow, Federal Case No. 1:07-cv-02428 and Snider's attorney was Albert J. Olizi, Jr. of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Snider's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $280,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Winslow or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Winslow or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Snider $280,000 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.