Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Berkeley pays $110,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On January 13, 2010, the Township of Berkeley (Ocean County) agreed to pay $110,000 to a Bayville man who sued members of the Berkeley Police Department for allegedly beating him and arresting him without probable cause.

In his suit, Michael Forte said that on March 7, 2007, his father, Pasquale Forte, received a call from Pasty Forte (Pasquale's son and Michael's brother) informing him that the police were at Patsy's Korman Road apartment. In response to the call, Pasquale and and Michael drove to Patsy's apartment.

Michael Forte alleges that upon arrival he was confronted by several Berkeley officers and was "without provocation . . . severely beaten" and arrested by Officers Patrick Stesner, Tammy Shinton, John M. Fosbre and Anthony Sgro. He further alleges that his handcuffs were applied too tightly and that when he was taken to the police station his requests for medical treatment and to loosen his handcuffs were ignored.

Forte said that he was charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct and lodged in the Ocean County Jail and released on bail the following day. He also said that the police "authored investigation reports containing false information . . . in order to shield themselves from criminal and/or civil liability." According to the complaint, the "criminal proceedings brought against [Forte] terminated in his favor."

Also named in the suit were Berkeley Police Chief John Weinlein and Sergeants James Blair, Curtis Drumhiller and Peter Kavitt.

The case is captioned Forte v. Berkeley, Federal Case No. 3:08-cv-04717 and Forte's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Forte's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $110,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Berkeley or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Berkeley or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Forte $110,000 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.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hoboken pays $125,000 to settle false arrest claim

On April 12, 2009, the City of Hoboken (Hudson County) agreed to pay $125,000 to a Guttenberg man who sued members of the Hoboken Police Department for an alleged false arrest and violation of his constitutional rights.

In his suit, Gregg Martin claimed that that Hoboken Police Officers Detective William Vera, Detective Michael DePalma and Detective Sergeant John Rodriguez falsely arrested him at his Guttenberg home on September 18, 2006. According to a December 4, 2008 trial court opinion, the Hoboken officers were investigating a scam being perpetrated by a moving company. When provided with a photograph of the suspect, the Hoboken officers were told by a Guttenberg officer that the photo was of a Guttenberg resident. When the Hoboken Officers went to Martin's apartment and spoke with him, Martin, after a while, reportedly decided to end the conversation and began closing his door. Detective Vera allegedly put his foot in the door, preventing it from closing. The officers then arrested and handcuffed Martin.

The officers reportedly asserted that Martin had obstructed the law by trying to close the door and for refusing to speak with them. Hudson County Superior Court Judge Mary K. Costello, however, held that what started as a non-intrusive "field inquiry" changed into a violation of Martin's constitutional rights when the officer put his foot in the door. Costello wrote that Martin's "refusal to speak with the officers and his attempt to close the door did not convert any suspicion that they may have had into probable cause. As such, their actions were impermissible."

Costello granted Martin a summary judgment on the issue of the officers' liability and the City appeal led. Before the appeal was decided, however, Martin and the City of Hoboken settled the case for $125,000.

The case is captioned Martin v. Vera, Docket No. HUD-L-1957-07 and Martin's attorney was Joel I. Rachmiel of Springfield. Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement for $125,000 does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Hoboken or any of its officials. While summary judgment was decided in Martin's favor, it is possible that that ruling would have been overturned had the appeal been decided. All that is known for sure is that Hoboken or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Martin $125,00 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.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hoboken pays $7,500 to settle police abuse suit

On March 9, 2010, the City of Hoboken (Hudson County) agreed to pay $7,500 to a Hoboken man who sued members of the Hoboken Police Department for allegedly verbally and physically abusing him.

In his suit, Jaime Figueroa said that when he visited the police station for some information on September 27, 2005, Sergeants Michael Costello and Dennis Figueroa were present. Figueroa objected after one of the officers allegedly "talked down" to him, resulting in the officer allegedly telling Figueroa to "get the F--- out of here."

Figueroa claims to have gone to City Hall to complain about the incident but was told to go back to the police station. When he returned to the police station, Sergeant Figueroa allegedly threatened to assault him. He also claimed that Sergeant Costello grabbed him, drug him to the door and "proceeded to throw [him] down three steps in front of the police department." Figueroa further claimed that no charged were filed against him as a result of the September 27, 2005 visit and that the encounter aggravated his pre-existing neck and back injuries.

The case is captioned Figueroa v. Hoboken, Federal Case No. 2:07-cv-04579 and Figueroa's attorney was Steven V. Schuster of Hackensack. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Figueroa's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $7,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Hoboken or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Hoboken or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Figueroa $7,500 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.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Springfield pays $22,500 to settle cop's hostile work environment suit

On March 23, 2010, Springfield Township (Union County) agreed to pay $22,500 to a Township police sergeant who sued Chief William Chisholm and other Township officials for allegedly creating "an extremely terrible/unbearable hostile work environment."

In his suit, Springfield Police Sergeant James W. Fine claimed that Chief Chisholm called him a "goofball and immature" and accused him "of using illegal steroids." The complaint also alleges that Chief Chisholm, in June 2007, "whipped his hand (back-hand style) towards [Fine's] neck."

The case is captioned Fine v. Springfield, Docket No. UNN-L-902-08 and Fine's attorney was Patrick P. Toscano, Jr. of Caldwell. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Fine's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $22,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Springfield or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Springfield's insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Fine $22,500 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.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Parsippany-Troy Hills pays $1,300,000 to settle police dispatcher negligence suit

On December 22, 2009, Parsippany-Troy Hills Township (Morris County) agreed to pay $1,300,000 to a couple who sued the Township because a police dispatcher allegedly failed to give a 911 caller proper instructions on how to treat his unconscious, non-breathing wife.

According to court filings, Parsippany resident Arturo Valles called 911 on June 6, 2005 after he found his wife, Sylvia Valles, on the bedroom floor in an unresponsive state. The 911 call was reportedly answered by Lieutenant Edward Jasiecki. Due to the length of time that it took emergency service responders to determine that a piece of meat was lodged in her throat, Ms. Valles suffered a prolonged period of oxygen deprivation which seriously disabled her.

Plaintiff's expert witness had testified that Lieutenant Jasiecki, upon learning that Ms. Valles was unconscious, ought to have consulted a guidecard entitled “Choking Adult Instructions." That guidecard, according to the expert, would have caused Jasiecki to direct Mr. Valles to administer thrusts to his wife's abdomen and then lift her chin, open her mouth and sweep out the piece of meat. Since these instruction weren't given, the court ruled that a jury could find that Jasiecki's failure to give proper instructions may have caused Ms. Valles' injuries.

The matter is captioned Valles v. Parsippany-Troy Hills Township, et al, Civil No. 2:07-cv-01539. The Court opinion and settlement agreement are on-line here. The Valles' attorney was Clifford J. Weininger of Denville.

None of the Valles allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $1,300,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Parsippany-Troy Hills or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that defendants and their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the Valles $1,300,000 than take the matter to trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Penns Grove pays $10,500 to settle fire chief's legal expense claim

On March 9, 2010, Penns Grove Borough (Salem County) agreed to pay $10,500 to a Penns Grove fire chief to cover his legal bills for defending against criminal charges brought against him by Borough Police arising out of a May 26, 2008 fire call.

According to a news article in the May 5, 2008 Today's Sunbeam ("Fire chief faces assault charge" by Heather Simione) Liberty Fire Company No. 1 Chief Joseph A. Grasso responded to a fire alarm at senior citizen housing complex and got into a confrontation with Penns Grove Police Corporal Joseph Schultz regarding the manner in which Grasso was interacting with "a confused and upset 91-year-old resident of the facility." According to the news article, the police said that Grasso "became agitated and began yelling at the elderly woman" when she did not respond to his order to move.

According to the article, after Schultz told Grasso to stop directing abrasive language toward members of the public, "Grasso allegedly ordered Schultz to go outside and direct traffic and began shouting expletives, according to police." Schultz said that Grasso struck him with a closed fist. Grasso was later arrested and charged with aggravated assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

After the Salem County Grand Jury declined to indict Grasso on the charges, the Woolwich Township Municipal Court reportedly found not guilty of all remaining charges in January 2009.

Grasso, who had paid $7,500 out-of-pocket for his defense against the criminal charges, sought reimbursement from the Borough. The Borough reportedly refused to reimburse Grasso for his legal fees. Grasso alleges that he made repeated attempts to recover the $7,500 and eventually had his lawyer, Samuel Bullock of Pitman, speak to Penns Grove Solicitor Adam I. Telsey about the matter. According to court filings, Penns Grove offered to reimburse Grasso only $1,500 of the $7,500 in legal fees.

Grasso then retained another law firm, Chance & McCann of Bridgeton, who demanded that the Borough pay Grasso not only the original $7,500 in fees, but also an additional $3,000 for Grasso's legal expenses incurred in collecting the $7,500. The Borough allegedly responded to the firm's $10,500 demand by offering to pay only $7,500.

On December 7, 2009, Grasso filed suit against the Borough demanding "monetary damages in the amount of $10,500." On March 9, 2010, the parties entered into a a settlement agreement calling for Penns Grove to pay Grasso $10,500--the full amount claimed.

The suit is captioned Grasso v Penns Grove, Superior Court Docket No. SLM-L-439-09. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Grasso's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Penns Grove or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Penns Grove and perhaps its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Grasso $10,500 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.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Penns Grove pays $16,000 to settle case of alleged racial discrimination

On February 1, 2010, Penns Grove Borough (Salem County) agreed to pay $16,000 to its Public Works Supervisor who claimed that he was harassed and discriminated against by a member of the Borough Council.

The man, Vass Wiggins, who is Caucasian, complained that Councilwoman Carol Mincey, a black female assigned to oversee the Public Works Department, harassed him "on account of [Wiggins'] race and political affiliation." Specifically, Wiggins, in his January 2008 complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleged that Mincey has harassed him since 2004 and, despite him filing a harassment complaint against her that resulted in her transfer to another department, "she continued to harass [Wiggins] via telephone calls" and attempted to "undermine and question [his] authority with [his] subordinate employees." He further alleged to the EEOC that Mincey attempted to remove him from Public Works Supervisor because he lost his driver license, even though his position doesn't require him to possess a driver license.

After the EEOC was "unable to conclude that the information obtained establishes violations of the statutes," it dismissed Wiggins' complaint on November 18, 2008. Shortly thereafter, Wiggins, through Attorney F. Michael Daily, Jr. of Westmont, sued Mincey and the Borough in federal court. (Wiggins v. Mincey, et al, Case No. 1:08-cv-06192). In the complaint, Wiggins made essentially the same allegations but added that Mincey "intentionally and maliciously" disclosed to his subordinates confidential information that Wiggins had applied to the Borough for a leave of absence so that he could obtain treatment for his alcoholism.

In support of his allegation that Mincey's actions were motivated by race, Wiggins claimed in his suit that Mincey refers to herself as the "Head N----- in Charge."

The EEOC complaint, the lawsuit and settlement paperwork are on-line here.

None of Wiggins's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Penns Grove or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Penns Grove and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Wiggins $16,000 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.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Red Bank pays $290,000 to settle case of alleged police brutality

On October 27, 2009, Red Bank Borough (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $290,000 to a Middletown man who claimed that he was abused by police after the Borough's July 3, 2006 "Fireworks on the Navisink" celebration.

The man, Jonathan Wilson, said that the event was peaceful until certain individuals caused trouble that resulted in the police arresting more than a dozen persons. Wilson claims that Borough police officers "became verbally and physically abusive, not only to those individuals involved in the fracas, but also to innocent bystanders such as" Wilson. Wilson claims that he although he obeyed the officers commands to disperse, "several individuals in [his] vicinity directed mildly disparaging comments to toward the officers."

Wilson further alleges that after he and a friend had walked several blocks away from the area from which they were dispersed, Red Bank Patrolman Stephen Adams approached in a black, unmarked car, charged Wilson, and "violently forced [his] hands behind his back and threw him, face-first, to the ground" causing face and head lacerations "as well as severe dental injuries." He claims to have been taken to police headquarters where he was "pushed, shoved and cursed by numerous other police officers" and was refused medical treatment even though he asked for it.

After receiving medical treatment, Wilson claims to have gone back to the police station to file a complaint against Adams. He alleges that the officers at the station told him that they would "kick his ass" and jail him if he insisted on filing a complaint.

The matter is captioned Wilson v. Borough of Red Bank et al Civil No. 3:07-cv-00953. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here. Wilson's attorney was Robert F. Varady of Union.

The settlement agreement contains a provision requiring Wilson to keep the amount and terms of the settlement confidential. Fortunately, however, such "confidentiality clauses" do not trump the public's right to know under the Open Public Records Act.

None of Wilson's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $290,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Red Bank or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Red Bank and its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Wilson $290,000 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.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Rabbinical student accepts $50K settlement from Jackson and Lakewood cops

On December 7, 2009, Jackson and Lakewood Townships (both in Ocean County) each agreed to pay $25,000 to a then 18-year old Rabbinical student who claimed that SWAT teams improperly entered his dormitory room and held him at gunpoint during the early morning hours of May 9, 2007. The Ocean County Sheriff's Office, which was also allegedly involved in the raid, reportedly paid nothing toward the settlement.

The student, Yeuda Palok, an Israeli citizen, claims that he was sleeping in his dormitory room at the Hor Hatalmud Rabbinical College in Lakewood when SWAT units from the Lakewood and Jackson Police Departments and the Ocean County Sheriffs Office entered the dormitory at 3:30 a.m. Palok alleges that the police, dressed in full riot gear and armed with automatic weapons, "systematically herded" Palok and other students into the hallway and ordered them to stand facing the wall with their hands behind their heads.

According to the complaint, the police were investigating "a prank telephone call to the Lakewood police station" and were screaming obscenities at the students demanding that those responsible for placing the call "identify themselves and confess to the crime."

Palok claims that the police took him into a separate room and interrogated him out of the presence of the other students. Thereafter, he reportedly was taken back into the hallway and made to stand for nearly an hour facing the wall while the police "mocked, ridiculed and humiliated" him.

According to the complaint, "further investigation revealed that the prank telephone call had not come from the college but did, in fact, emanate from a another location in the same neighborhood." Palok claims that he had not, as of the date of his civil lawsuit, been charged with a crime.

The matter is captioned Palok v. Jackson Township et al Civil No. 3:08-cv-02047. The lawsuit and settlement agreements are on-line here. Palok's attorney was Robert F. Varady of Union.

Both settlement agreements contains provisions requiring the parties to keep the amount and terms of the settlement confidential. Fortunately, however, such "confidentiality clauses" do not trump the public's right to know under the Open Public Records Act.

None of Palok's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $50,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Jackson, Lakewood Ocean County or any of their officials. All that is known for sure is that defendants and their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Palok $50,000 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.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Paterson pays $30,000 to settle false arrest claim

On November 2, 2009, the City of Paterson (Passaic County) agreed to pay $30,000 to a Bergen County man whose lawsuit claimed that Paterson police officers stopped his car "without reasonable suspicion" and "in part because of his race," illegally searched it and falsely arrested him "in an effort to cover-up their wrongdoing."

In his complaint, Plaintiff Gerald D Graddy named Detective Sergeant Daniel Rooney, Detective Ivette Otero and Detective Latrenta Grayson as the officers who improperly stopped his car on January 4, 2008. He also claimed that the Paterson Police Department has "a custom or practice of tolerating widespread civil rights abuses by its police officers against African Americans" and that the department's Internal Affairs Unit "either ignores complaints or fails to take any corrective action other than taking the complaint."

The matter is captioned Graddy v. City of Paterson et al, Civil No. 2:08-cv-03888. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here. Graddy was represented by Louis A. Zayas of Newark.

The settlement agreement contains a provision requiring the parties to keep the amount and terms of the settlement confidential. Fortunately, however, such "confidentiality clauses" do not trump the public's right to know under the Open Public Records Act.

None of Graddy's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $30,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Paterson or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that defendants and their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the Graddy $30,000 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.

Elizabeth pays $81,000 to settle man's claim that he was beaten by police

On February 8, 2009, the City of Elizabeth (Union County) agreed to pay $81,000 to an African-American Linden man who had sued the City claiming that Elizabeth police officers threw him on his jail cell floor while he was handcuffed resulting in multiple broken ribs and a punctured lung. No officers were identified by name in the lawsuit.

In his complaint, Plaintiff Hushel Scott claimed that the incident occurred on June 21, 2005 after his arrest for violating a restraining order. He claimed that he had been cooperative during his encounter with police and that after being thrown to the ground he "laid in pain trying to gasp for air." He claimed that despite his complaints of injury, he was refused medical treatment until the next day.

The matter is captioned Scott v. City of Elizabeth et al, Civil No. 2:06-cv-02964. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here. Scott was represented by Eric S. Pennington of Newark.

None of Scott's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $81,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Elizabeth or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that defendants and their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the Scott $81,000 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.

Elizabeth pays $25,000 to settle police brutality claim

In February 2006, the City of Elizabeth (Union County) agreed to pay $25,000 to an African-American Elizabeth man who had sued the City claiming that Elizabeth police officers assaulted him.

In his complaint, Plaintiff Tyshoon Orr claimed that Elizabeth Police Officers Hector Cifuentes and Yohara Kiniery forced him into their patrol car, against his will, on May 13, 2003 while he was standing on a street corner. He claimed that Cifuentes and Kiniery drove him to a secluded area in Warnaco Park in Roselle and "forced [him] to strip down to his jeans and t-shirt." Then, the officers allegedly assaulted Orr and left him in the park "without his shoes, jacket or shirt." He claims to have suffered injuries to his cheek and ribs.

On November 13, 2003, Orr claims that the same two officers arrested him on drug charges but that he was acquitted of those charges.

The matter is captioned Orr v. City of Elizabeth et al, Civil No. 05-cv-02485. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here. Orr was represented by Cynthia H. Hardaway of Newark.

None of Orr's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Elizabeth or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that defendants and their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the Orr $25,000 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.

Elizabeth pays $5,000 to settle police brutality claim

On January 8, 2009, the City of Elizabeth (Union County) agreed to pay $5,000 to an Elizabeth man who had sued the City claiming that Elizabeth police officers used excessive force against him.

In his complaint, Plaintiff Maurice McCullers claimed that patrol officers Vazquez and Beltran, while arresting him on April 8, 2006, unnecessarily threw him on the ground causing him to be injured. (There are no first names for the officers listed in the lawsuit.)

The matter is captioned McCullers v. City of Elizabeth et al, Civil No. 08-cv-02929. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here. McCullers was represented by Robert J. Cardpnsky of Elizabeth.

None of McCullers's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $5,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Elizabeth or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that defendants and their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the McCullers $5,000 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.

Elizabeth pays $10,000 to settle police brutality claim

On November 6, 2006, the City of Elizabeth (Union County) agreed to pay $10,000 to a Bronx, New York man who had sued the City claiming that Elizabeth police officers beat him and let him go without arresting him.

In his complaint, Plaintiff Jose Luna claimed that on August 21, 2005, he was a passenger in a car driven by his boss who fled when police attempted to pull the car over. After the car overheated, the driver allegedly fled on foot while Luna remained seated in the passenger seat.

Luna claimed that Elizabeth Police Office Raul DeLaPrida opened the passenger door, "dragged [Luna] out and threw him on the ground" even though Luna did not resist. DeLaPrida and other unnamed officers then reportedly handcuffed Luna, kicked him in the head and "grabbed him by the hair and dragged him along the side of the roadway."

Thereafter, Luna claimed, he explained to the officers that he had never been involved with the law and was a veteran of the United States Navy. After confirming that he was indeed a Navy veteran, one of the officers reportedly "did punch [Luna] in the stomach and sarcastically thanked him for serving his country."

Luna claims that police elected not to arrest him but took him to the hospital where he was treated for the injuries he received from the police.

The matter is captioned Luna v. City of Elizabeth et al, Civil No. 2:06-cv-00500. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here. Luna was represented by Robert B. Woodruff of Morristown.

None of Luna's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $10,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Elizabeth or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that defendants and their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the Luna $10,000 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.

Elizabeth pays $7,500 to settle false arrest and police brutality claim

On October 30, 2006, the City of Elizabeth (Union County) agreed to pay $7,500 to an Elizabeth man who had sued the City claiming that Elizabeth police officer interrogated him without reasonable suspicion, assaulted him and falsely arrested him.

In his complaint, Plaintiff Jean Belizaire claimed patrol officers Michael Gregory and Victor Arena stopped him while he was walking down a city sidewalk on January 9, 2004. Belizaire claimed that both officer were in plain clothes and did not identify themselves as police officers. When the officers began interrogating him, Belizaire claimed, he "expressed confusion at such questions from strangers" and refused to answer.

At this point, Belizaire alleged, Officer Gregory approached him in a hostile manner and called him a "big mouth" and Officer Arena demanded his identification. After asking the officers to identify themselves, Belizaire claimed they refused and Officer Gregory told him to "shut up and to do as he was told." Suspecting that there were police officers, Belizaire claimed that he then grudgingly showed them his identification. The officers then reportedly called into the headquarters to see if there were outstanding warrants against Belizaire.

When he started challenging the officers' authority, Belizaire alleges that Officer Gregory lost his temper and screamed "We are only asking you a f------ question. What is your f------ problem." According to the lawsuit, Officer Gregory then "wrestled Plaintiff to the ground" while Arena put his knee in Belizaire's back and Gregory "stood his foot on the left side of Plaintiff's face." He claimed to have been treated for injuries arising from this encounter on January 10, 2004 at the Trinity Hospital.

Belizaire alleged that the there were no warrants against him but that he was charged with police interference, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct but later released on bond. He claimed that all the charges were dismissed by the prosecutor after Belizaire had made over ten appearances in the Elizabeth Municipal Court.

Finally, Belizaire alleged that he complained about the officers' conduct to Lieutenant John Bastardo and Sergeant Stephen Negrey but was never contacted by the police internal affairs unit regarding his complaint.

The matter is captioned Belizaire v. City of Elizabeth et al, Civil No. 2:06-cv-00099. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here. Belizaire was represented by Julio C. Gomez of Fanwood.

The settlement agreement contains a provision requiring the parties to keep the amount and terms of the settlement confidential. Fortunately, however, such "confidentiality clauses" do not trump the public's right to know under the Open Public Records Act.

None of Belizaire's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $7,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Elizabeth or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that defendants and their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the Belizaire $7,500 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.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Margate pays $125,000 to woman settle sexual harassment suit

On October 6, 2009, the City of Margate (Atlantic County), its insurer and former Margate Police Sergeant William J. Bowen agreed to pay a total of $125,000 to a Mays Landing woman who claimed that Sergeant Bowen sexually harassed her. Of the $125,000, $115,000 was paid by Margate and its insurers and $10,000 was paid by Bowen.

In her complaint, Plaintiff Jennifer M. Vandegrift claimed that Bowen, during a June 7, 2005 traffic stop, asked her for her phone number, "asked her out on a date and asked her to remove and give him her undergarments." Vandegrift, who admits having been visibly intoxicated at the time, claims that she "felt coerced" to give Bowen her telephone number "but evaded his request for her undergarments saying that she wasn't wearing any." After Bowen let her go, she was later arrested by Ocean City police for driving while intoxicated.

Vandegrift further claims that a year later, she received a telephone call from a person who identified himself as "Joe" who told her that he had gotten her telephone number that evening. She reportedly suspected that Bowen was "Joe" because he was the only person she had given her number to that evening. The complaint alleges that "Bowen was later identified as the caller" and that he made raw and graphic sexual comments to her.

Vandegrift claims that the encounters caused her to seek "treatment for emotional problems" and that after she complained to the Cape May County Prosecutor's office, "administrative charges" were filed against Bowen. The charges reportedly resulted in a settlement agreement under which Bowen resigned and agreed not to seek reinstatement with the Margate Police Department.

The matter is captioned Vandegrift v.Bowen, et al, Civil No. 1:07-cv-02623. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here. Vandegrift was represented by Thomas M. Barron of Moorestown.

None of Vandegrift's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $125,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Margate, Bowen or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that defendants and their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the Vandegrift $125,000 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.

Mantua pays $10,000 to settle police harassment claim

On August 5, 2009, Mantua Township (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $10,000 to a Broomall, Pennsylvania man who had sued the Township, Township Police Chief Graham B. Land and Police Officer Jason Davis and alleged that Davis and other unnamed officers repeatedly pulled him over for no reason and otherwise harassed and taunted him.

In his complaint, Plaintiff Mohammed Ahmad Kobeissi, who identifies himself as "an Arab-American citizen and part of a protected minority group," claims that Davis' and the other unnamed officers' pattern of harassment started with a September 6, 2006 traffic stop and search of his car. He claimed that the stop, which occurred at 2:48 a.m., was without probable cause and that it was done "solely for the purpose of taunting, harassing and/or threatening" him "due to his race and/or nationality." He further claims that Davis and the unnamed officers "repeatedly pulled [his] vehicle over for no reason," made him take field sobriety tests and issued him a careless driving ticket even though he was not driving carelessly.

When Kobeissi appeared in court to fight the careless driving ticket, he alleges that the officers "threatened, taunted and harassed him" and that their actions forced him to leave the courthouse without having his case heard. When he complained to Chief Graham, Kobeissi claims that his complaints were summarily dismissed or not addressed.

The matter is captioned Kobeissi v. Mantua Township, et al, Civil No. 1:08-cv-02730-JEI-AMD. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here. Kobeissi was represented by Matthew B. Weisberg of Morton, Pennsylvania.

None of Kobeissi's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $10,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Mantua or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that defendants and their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the Kobeissi $10,000 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.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Swedesboro and Woolwich pay $475,000 to settle police brutality claim

On January 12, 2010, Swedesboro Borough and Woolwich Township (both in Gloucester County) agreed to pay $475,000 to a Swedesboro woman who had sued Borough and Township police officers for allegedly falsely arresting her and using excessive force against her on January 19, 2002.

In her complaint, Plaintiff Lisa Silver claimed that she was "an occupant of an establishment situated on Kings Highway" in Swedesboro when Woolwich Police Officer Vincent Minnitti and Swedesboro Police Officer Stanley Kemp, who were investigating a report of a public disturbance, asked her and her husband Roy Silver to leave the area. According to the complaint, a verbal altercation ensued between Lisa Silver and the officers that resulted in her arrest for "hindering apprehension and disorderly conduct among other charges." She alleges that Minnitti, in effecting the arrest, "grabbed her by the neck and threw her to the ground" to handcuff her and "twisted [her] arms behind her back [with] such force . . . that she required shoulder surgery." She claims that she was later "cleared of all charges" in the Swedesboro Municipal Court.

The Silvers filed suit on January 15, 2004 and claimed violations of constitutional rights, assault and battery and other torts.

The matter is captioned Silver v. Woolwich Township, et al, Civil No. 1:04-cv-00141-JS. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here. Lisa Silver's attorney was Benson Goldberger, Esq. of Philadelphia and Roy Silver was represented by Alan E. Denenberg of Philadelphia.

None of the Silvers' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $475,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Swedesboro, Woolwich or any of their officials. All that is known for sure is that defendants and their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay the Silvers $475,000 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.