Friday, June 4, 2010

Neptune Township pays $65,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On April 5, 2010, the Township of Neptune (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $65,000 to a Brick Township man who sued members of the Neptune Police Department for allegedly beating, falsely arresting and maliciously prosecuting him.

In his suit, Carl R. Lepis said that shortly before midnight on March 15, 2008, he and a friend, identified as Vitale, were having a cigarette outside the Jumping Brook Spirits and Bar on State Route 33 in Neptune. While Lepis was standing next to Vitale's truck smoking his cigarette, a Neptune patrol car allegedly approached and shined a spot light on the pair. According to the suit, Patrolman John Jackson asked for Lepis' identification and Lepis handed him his passport.

Jackson then allegedly asked Lepis for his address and Lepis responded that the address was listed on the passport. After asking for and receiving Vitale's identification as well, Jackon allegedly ordered Lepis to turn around because he was under arrest.

Lepis claims that although he complied with Jackson's request, Patrolman J. Hunter Ellison approached and both officers "grabbed" him and "slammed [his] body against Vitale's truck." The two officers then allegedly "slammed [Lepis'] body against Jackson's police vehicle" and pushed him to the ground. Jackson then allegedly sprayed Lepis with OC Spray while Ellison allegedly "punched [him] in the face and back."

According to the complaint, "without any resistance from [Lepis], Defendants Jackson and Ellison continued to beat, punch, kick and pull [his] hair." They then allegedly handcuffed him and "slammed [his] head against the door frame as he was pushed into the police vehicle." These incidents were allegedly witnessed by Neptune Police Officers Fred Faulhaber, Leslie Borges and Bryce Byham, but all of these officers are claimed to have "failed to intervene and prevent the violation of [Lepis'] civil rights."

Lepis was charged with Disorderly Conduct, Resisting Arrest and a local ordinance for being drunk in public. Lepis claims that Jackson "made numerous false statements of fact in order to justify [his] arrest and beating. Lepis alleges that "the criminal proceedings initiated by [the officers] terminated in [his] favor."

Also named in the suit was Neptune Police Chief John O'Neil.

The case is captioned Lepis v. Township of Neptune, et al, Federal Case No. 3:09-cv-00402 and Lepis' attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold. Case documents are 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 Lepis' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $65,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Neptune or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Neptune or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lepis $65,000 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.