Saturday, May 22, 2010

Springfield pays $250,000 to settle lawsuit filed by two township cops

On March 18, 2010, the Township of Springfield (Union County) agreed to pay $250,000 to two police officers who sued the Township and its police chief for mistreating them.

The two officers, Patrolman Walter Brooks, who is African-American, and Captain Peter Davis will receive $150,000 and $100,000 respectively. According to an April 30, 2010 Star Ledger article on the settlement, Davis continues to work for the Springfield Police Department while Brooks has been transferred to the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.

In their suit, Brooks and Davis claimed that Police Chief William Chisholm conducted himself inappropriately. As one example, Brooks claimed that Chisolm took him to a Halloween display that included a effigy of an African-American man hanging from a tree. Brooks also claimed that Chisolm manipulated the scoring of a test which deprived him of a departmental promotion.

Brooks also made the startling allegation that Chisolm purchased an armor piercing handgun and fired an armor piercing bullet into the type of bullet-proof vests that Brooks and other officers typically wore. Chisolm allegedly brought the pierced vest into police headquarters even though he knew that Captain Vernon Peterson allegedly had earlier made threats against Brooks' life. Peterson, according to Brooks' complaint, had a history of telling racist jokes within earshot of Brooks.

Davis' allegations stem from a February 17, 2009 deposition that he gave in Brooks' lawsuit. After Davis testified in a manner critical of Chisholm, Chisholm allegedly retaliated against him by assigning him to the midnight shift.

The case is captioned Brooks and Davis v. Springfield, Docket No. UNN-L-137-08 and Brooks' and Davis' attorney was Mark Mulick of Montclair. Case documents are on-line here.

Also included at the above link are two written decisions by Union County Superior Court Judge Kathryn A. Brock. The decisions provides some insight into the Springfield Police Department's inner workings. For example, the August 26, 2009 decision (page 7), reveals that in 2007, Chief Chisholm was found to have violated the Township's harassment policy and was required to successfully complete a harassment training program.

None of Brooks and Davis's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $250,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Springfield or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Springfield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Brooks and Davis $250,000 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.