Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Weehawken pays $105,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On November 18, 2009, the Township of Weehawken (Hudson County) agreed to pay $105,000 to a Palisades Park man who sued members of the Weehawken Police Department for allegedly applying excessive force upon him during an arrest.

In his suit, Richard Sedell, said that on June 30, 2006, he was arrested by Weehawken Police Officers William Paynter and John Mulvaney. During the arrest, the suit alleges, the officers force Sedell's "previously compromised left shoulder beyond the range of motion that it could tolerate, despite [his] prior advice and contemporaneous protests."

The case is captioned Sedell v. Weehawken, Federal Case No. 2:08-cv-03151 and Sedell's attorney was Jonathan Koles of Jersey City. 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 Sedell's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $105,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Weehawken or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Weehawken or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Sedell $105,000 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.