Thursday, June 10, 2010

Plainsboro pays $12,500 to settle police false arrest suit

On January 21, 2010, the Township of Plainsboro (Middlesex County) agreed to pay $12,500 to a Collingswood man who sued Plainsboro Police Officer Jason Mariano for allegedly arresting him without probable cause.

In his suit, Vincent Capriotti said that on April 5, 2009, he was driving on Route 1 North when Mariano, who was "conducting selective enforcement" pulled him over. He claims to have given Mariano his registration and a lapsed insurance card, but could not produce his driver license because his wallet had recently been stolen. He said, however, that he was able to tell Mariano his driver license number.

After Capriotti got out of his vehicle at Mariano's request, he claims that Mariano "unlawfully requested to search [his] vehicle for his driver's license and insurance card." Capriotti allegedly told Mariano that "he would not allow [Mariano] to search his vehicle without first speaking to his supervisor."

At this point, Capriotti claims that Mariano handcuffed him and took him to the Plainsboro police station where he was released after being held for four hours. Although it is not clear from the complaint, Capriotti was apparently charged with obstructing the administration of law and government function and was later acquitted of that charge.

He sued for the attorney fees he expended fighting the charge, his car's towing and storage charges, lost wages and "severe emotional distress." Also named in the lawsuit was Police Chief Richard Furda.

The case is captioned Capriotti v. Plainsboro, Middlesex County Superior Court, Docket No. L-9620-09 and Capriotti's attorney was Richard T. Silverman of Cherry Hill. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Capriotti's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $12,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Plainsboro or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Plainsboro or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Capriotti $12,500 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.