Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Camden pays $4,500 to settle police harassment/intimidation suit

On December 8, 2009, the City of Camden (Camden County) agreed to pay $4,500 to a local man who sued members of the Camden Police Department for allegedly harassing him.

In his suit, Halbert Coursey said that after all charges arising out of his February 5, 2004 arrest were dropped on December 20, 2004, he filed filed suit against the Camden Police officers who sued him. He claims that Camden Police retaliated against him through a pattern of abuse and harassment.

On December 1, 2005, he alleges, Officer Steven Gracia (also referred to as Stephen Gracia) arrested him because he thought that he was on a "list of people who were prohibited from being in" a certain neighborhood. After not being able to verify that Coursey was on that list, Gracia allegedly released him but issued him a summons for "loitering with the intent to purchase a CDS." Coursey claims that the summons was issued solely to harass him and that he was forced to hire an attorney and appear in court. He claims that Gracia never appeared in court to prosecute the charge and that it was eventually dismissed.

On November 16, 2006, Coursey alleges, he was in a group of men that was approached by two police officers who he believes were D. Vautierinze and. C. Concepcion (presumably Carlos Concepcion). The officers allegedly told everyone in the group except for Coursey to leave. After Coursey was alone with the two officers, he saw that Gracia "lurking in the background" and asked him to come over to identify him for the two officers. Gracia allegedly refused to do so and the other officers intimidated Coursey with a flashlight and pepper spray.

On January 11, 2007, Coursey claims that he was washing his car when "a number of officers" told him to put his hands on his car and searched him without his consent. When the officers found a letter from Coursey's lawyer in his pocket, one of them allegedly asked "What are you doing with an attorney? If you are suing, why do you live in this piece of s---?" The officers allegedly locked him the back seat of a police car and later released him.

Also named in the suit were Camden Police Chief Edwin Figuero and Arturo Venegas.

The case is captioned Coursey v. Camden, Federal Case No. 1:08-cv-2169 and Coursey's attorney was George L. Farmer of Ventnor. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Coursey's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $4,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Camden or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Camden or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Coursey $4,500 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.