Monday, June 14, 2010

Dover pays $15,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On October 29, 2009, the Town of Dover (Morris County) agreed to pay $15,000 to a Morris County woman who sued members of the Dover Police Department for false arrest, excessive force and malicious prosecution.

In her suit, Angelica Lopez said that on March 7, 2003, when she was 15 years old, she was exiting a teen-party when she was approached by a Dover Police Officer who she believed to be Justin Gabrys who yelled "move along" or words to that effect. Lopez, who was 5'1" tall and weighed 110 pounds, allegedly told the officer that she was waiting for her ride. The officer then allegedly got out of his car, grabbed Lopez by her arm and pushed her against a wall "pressing his body hard against hers."

Gabrys then allegedly spun Lopez around, handcuffed her and called for back-up. The back-up officer, who was alleged to probably be Sergeant Bruce Cole, reportedly sprayed Lopez with mace. Lopez says that she was then "thrown into the police car" and taken to the station. While at the station, she alleges that Cole screamed at her, used obscenities and threatened to have her taken to a mental institution. Lopez says she was charged with aggravated assault, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and obstructing the administration of justice and held in detention for two days. She alleges to have been acquitted of all charges except for disorderly conduct.

The case is captioned Lopez v. Dover, Federal Case No. 2:2008cv02115 and Lopez's attorney was Jeffrey J. Mahoney of Flemington. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Lopez's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $15,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Dover or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Dover or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lopez $15,000 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.