Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Millville pays $100,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On February 9, 2010, the City of Millville (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $100,000 to a Vineland woman who sued members of the Millville Police Department for allegedly beating her.

In her suit, Sheila Stevenson said that on February 3, 2008, former officer Carlo Drogo punched her in the face, head, arms, legs and other parts of her body after stopping her as she rode her bicycle. Also named in her suit were Millville Patrolmen Sean Guy and Edmund Ansara

According to a December 13, 2008 article in the News of Cumberland County ("Suit filed against former Millville police officer," by Joe Green), Stevenson was charged with possession of cocaine, failing to deliver a controlled dangerous substance to police, resisting arrest, obstruction of justice and giving false information to an officer in connection with the incident.

Police dash-camera footage of the alleged beating are on various Internet sites in including You Tube.

The case is captioned Stevenson v. City of Millville, Federal Case No. 09-cv-3508 and Stevenson's attorney was Harold B. Shapiro of Vineland. The settlement agreement is 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 Stevenson's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $100,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Millville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Millville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Stevenson $100,000 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, April 16, 2010

Mount Olive pays $25,000 to settle malicious prosecution suit

On March 8, 2010, the Township of Mount Olive (Morris County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a man who sued members of the Mount Olive Police Department and the Township's mayor and prosecutor for maliciously prosecuting him for harshly criticizing the police department for setting up a motor vehicle roadblock.

In his suit, William P. Duncan, Jr. said that on August 4, 2002, his elderly aunt was taken to the hospital by ambulance after falling down some concrete stairs and breaking her hip. Duncan said he drove to the hospital in order to care for his aunt and to supply a blood transfusion if needed.

While driving to the hospital on Route 46 at about 1 p.m., Duncan claimed that he was stopped by a roadblock set up by Mount Olive Police and detained there for about eight minutes while the police looked through car windows for evidence of criminal activity or motor vehicle violations. Duncan said that he felt that the roadblock was unconstitutional and was annoyed that it may have delayed his aunt's trip to the hospital.

In order to express his displeasure at the roadblock, he stopped at a phone booth to call Mount Olive Police. When he found he had no change, Duncan called 911 and "criticized the police for having the roadblock and asked the operator whether they lived in a Nazi state." Duncan admits to having used foul and offensive language.

According to Duncan's lawsuit, the Mount Olive police "immediately traced [Duncan's] call and tracked him down on the way to the hospital." Police allegedly "seized [Duncan] and forced him back to the site of the roadblock to have their supervisor" Michael Pocquat speak with him. There, Pocquat allegedly lectured Duncan for about twenty minutes about how the roadblock was needed to search for terrorists. After the lecture, Pocquat released Duncan and let him continue on his way to the hospital.

According to the lawsuit, Pocquat, during the next several weeks, decided to press criminal charges against Duncan because of his "criticism of the roadblock and his indirect suggestion that the Mount Olive Police Department were 'Nazis.'" Duncan alleged that this decision to press charges was made with the assistance and cooperation of Mayor Richard DeLaRoche, Police Chief Edward Katona, Jr. and Municipal Prosecutor Brian Mason.

Duncan alleged that Pocquat began calling members of Duncan's family to ask where Duncan lived, "even though Mount Olive police had written down [Duncan's] full name and address at the time of the roadblock incident and knew exactly where he lived." Duncan further alleged that at about 10 p.m. on August 27, 2002, Pocquat sent an officer to Duncan's elderly mother's house. He claimed that the officer told her that her house was under surveillance and that Duncan "is in a lot of trouble." He alleged that the visit "served no legitimate purpose but was designed to terrorize [Duncan's] mother.

Duncan claimed that he was issued a summons and complaint at his home at about 10:15 the same night for having "knowingly placed a 911 call knowing no emergency existed and using offensive language to convey his dissatisfaction with Mt. Olive." Duncan alleged that the summons and complaint, which contained his full address, was written prior to the police visit to his mother's house, thus demonstrating that the police "had [Duncan's] home address all along and had no need to be harassing his mother late at night."

Duncan was charged with violating N.J.S.A. 2C:33-3(e) (using 911 for non-emergency purposes). Duncan claimed that he was summoned to the Mount Olive Municipal Court to answer the charge even though it is a crime of the fourth degree which cannot be prosecuted in municipal court.. After apparently learning that the charge could not be prosecuted in municipal court, Mount Olive officials referred the case to the Morris County Prosecutor who declined to prosecute it as a crime. Rather, the County Prosecutor returned the matter to the Mount Olive Municipal Court to be prosecuted as the petty disorderly persons offense of harassment.

Duncan claimed that since his right to criticize the police was protected by the First Amendment, the prosecution was "utterly without probable cause." He also alleged that at his March 29, 2004 trial, Pocquat and two other officers perjured themselves. After having been found guilty by Municipal Court Judge Philip J. Maenza, he was sentenced to pay a $1,000 fine and spend 30 days in jail.

Duncan alleged that he asked Maenza to defer his sentence for a short while because his wife was having cancer surgery leaving him to care for his minor children. Despite this, Duncan claimed, Maenza ordered him to be sent to the Morris County Jail immediately where he stayed until March 31, 2004 when he was able to obtain a stay of sentence.

Duncan alleged that on April 14, 2005, all the charges against him were dismissed by the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court, which found "that the charges against [him] were insufficient as a matter of law."

The case is captioned Duncan v. Pocquat, et al, Federal Case No. 2:07-cv-01570 and Duncan's attorneys were Edward P. Kelly of Spring Lake and Michael G. O’Neill of New York. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Duncan's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Mount Olive or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Mount Olive or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Duncan $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 claimed. Or, perhaps the claimed 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.

UPDATE 04/28/10


William Duncan, the plaintiff in the civil case, asked me to add the following clarification to my blog entry. I have not verified the factual statements he made and any opinion expressed are Mr. Duncan's and not mine. Before relying on any fact alleged, you should verify it by consulting official records. JP

The above coverage of this civil suit demands some clarification. The issue and subject of my complaint was not the illegal roadblock which precipitated the event, but my allegation that that police committed perjury and lied under oath and during their testimony in my trial, amongst multiple other civil rights violations.

During a formal court hearing in Mount Olive municipal court, the prosecutor denied the existence of critical discovery evidence requested to prove my case. The prosecutor declared on the record, with the judge concurring and dismissing my motion, that police retained no records of any phone calls made to their emergency 911 line. Absurd.

I took the discovery issue to NJ Superior Court and won; the Superior Court Judge then ordering police and prosecutor to provide the exact 911 records which he had formally stated on the record did not exist. It was a clear and blatant example of perjury, obstruction of justice, and federal civil rights violation. I notified the presiding judge of the prosecutors perjury, for which he was required by law to act, and he did nothing.

Appearing at trial to answer a petty harassment charge, I was actually tried on a 4th degree felony charge outside the municipal court's jurisdiction; with both judge and prosecutor arguing their pursuit of a felony charge not formally before the court, and for which I was unprepared, until I proved myself correct. This further violation of civil rights was the subject of my appeal by the ACLU in the appellate division, which agreed and overturned my conviction.

Not being able to support an argument of harassment given there was no intent to harass as defined by NJ vs. Hoffman, (I had only called their illegal actions at a mid day Sunday afternoon roadblock as that of Nazis) the prosecutor produced a completely new argument. Three police officers lied under oath in testifying against me by stating that no ambulance had passed their roadblock; evidence of which I had in multiple Mount Olive EMS personnel eye witnesses to the event. While the hospital emergency is now acknowledged by police in their statements, it was denied to having occurred at all by the testimony of the police during my trial - allowing an openly hostile judge to negate my defense and find a guilty verdict. This was the core issue of the federal case. It was my allegation in my federal complaint that had the prosecutor not created a fraudulent argument, and had police not deliberately lied under oath in support of that fraudulent argument, I would not have been convicted and sent to jail.

In my 1st appeal in Superior Court, the judge again completely ignored a NJ Supreme Court clarification on the issue of harassment in the case of Hoffmann, as the municipal court had done, and upheld my conviction. My attorney adamantly refused to address the civil rights violations and police perjury in my appeal.

Of the many defense attorneys I had contacted originally when first charged, all stated that the NJ municipal court system was so utterly corrupt that they could not defend me if pleading not guilty. In their words, not mine, I was advised that the municipal court system was a revenue generating system and more of a "kangaroo court," not a venue for justice. They further stated the wrath I would face in the court for criticizing their police force, a prime and needed moneymaker for the township.

Except for one attorney who stated he would file a not-guilty plea for a $10,000 retainer expecting to appeal it, the rest would only take the case if I agreed to let them negotiate a plea to to a charge of something lesser. Lets make a deal you could say. This for a $2,500 fee.

I refused, and ultimately defended myself having no other options, and not willing to plead guilty to something I did not do. Immediately before my trial, I was pressured by the prosecutor to accept a guilty plea to a minor motor vehicle violation and pay maybe a $100 fine, which I refused. In the end, those attorneys I had originally spoken to were 100% correct, and I did learn first hand of how corrupt the municipal court system really is.

I filed the federal complaint myself, and turned the case over to an attorney simply due to the lack of time to properly pursue the case. I am not an attorney.

This was a solid case with every claim fully supported. My attorney however, refused to pursue the core arguments of the case, that of the perjury of police and malicious prosecution, and insisted upon a settlement.

As an outsider to the legal world, this case has been both educational to me and quite disturbing. The law is magnificent in its raw form; in print anyway. In practice, however it is corrupt from every viewpoint.

Although the American justice system is still hailed as the best, what justice exists when every attorney you speak to tells you the courts themselves are so utterly corrupt that they will not even take the case unless you plead guilty? When the reality of the court system to those practicing within its walls is completely opposite public perception?

When attorneys are afraid of bring charges against corrupt public officials due to some form of personal or official retribution? When an attorney explains he cannot defend you on a no-guilty plea because he has no fair chance whatsoever; and then further ridicules you for even thinking it even possible.

Attorneys act and like to be perceived as honorable defenders of freedom, but in fact lack the courage to oppose the system. And under such conditions, no justice can exist.

This civil suit was about violations of civil rights relating to my trial in Mount Olive and not the roadblock itself which prompted it.

William Duncan
billdunc@optonline.net

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Paramus pays $75,000 to settle sexual harassment suit

On November 21, 2008, the Borough of Paramus (Bergen County) agreed to pay $75,000 to a female Paramus police detective who sued the Borough and its police chief after the chief allegedly groped her at a December 2006 party.

According to articles appearing in The Record ("Ex-chief's accuser is fearful, mom says," August 29, 2007 and Harassment probe: Why so long?" January 13, 2008), Detective Christine Ruggiero accused Paramus Police Chief Frederick J. Corrubia of the groping incident. The Record articles reported that Corrubia resigned days after the allegations became public in January 2007.

The lawsuit is captioned Ruggiero v. Paramus, et al, Docket No. BER-L-1665-07 and Ruggiero's attorney was Stephen H. Kahn of Fort Lee. The settlement agreement is 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 Ruggiero's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $75,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Paramus or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Paramus or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ruggiero $75,000 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.

Winslow Township pays $280,000 to settle police abuse suit filed by stroke victim

On January 27, 2010, the Township of Winslow (Camden County) agreed to pay $280,000 to a Sicklerville man who had sued the Township Police Department for assault, false arrest and violation of his constitutional rights.

In his suit, George Snider alleges that he was driving his car on May 25, 2005, shortly after noon, when he suffered a cerebral stroke, which caused him to experience an extreme headache, paralysis of his left side, mental confusion and slurred speech. The stroke allegedly caused Snider to lose control of his car, jump a curb and strike a police car.

The driver of the police car Snider struck, Officer Anthony D. Ortiz, reportedly questioned Snider as to whether he had been drinking. Snider allegedly responded that he had not been drinking but had a severe pain in his head. According to the lawsuit, Ortiz "forcibly removed [Snider] from his motor vehicle dragging him out from behind the wheel and throwing him onto the ground, face first, . . . in such a way that [Snider] was unable to shield himself from having his face and teeth strike the ground." This allegedly resulted in Snider having "several teeth forcibly dislodged from his jaw" as well as suffering a ripped rotator cuff.

Ortiz and other officers then allegedly handcuffed Snider and kneed him in the back and pushed him against a vehicle such that its windshield wipers struck his face. They then allegedly threw him face down in the back of the police car.

A short time later, Snider alleged that the Winslow Township EMS squad came to the scene and diagnosed him as having possibly suffered a stroke. He was transported to Virtua Hospital and was treated, but later discovered that his wallet and eyeglasses had been taken at the accident scene.

Other Winslow officers named in the suit were Chief Anthony Bello, Lieutenant Robert Boisvert, Sergeant Robert Stimelski and officers Michael Gingrich, Robin Fanelle and Michael Parker.

The case is captioned Snider v. Township of Winslow, Federal Case No. 1:07-cv-02428 and Snider's attorney was Albert J. Olizi, Jr. of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Snider's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $280,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Winslow or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Winslow or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Snider $280,000 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.

Passaic County pays $150,000 to settle undersheriff's wrongful termination and defamation suit.

On January 4, 2008, the County of Passaic agreed to pay $150,000 to an undersheriff who had sued the County, Sheriff Jerry Speziale and others for wrongfully firing and defaming him.

In his suit, Felix Garcia, a Latino American who had worked for Passaic County since 1972, alleged that a search warrant, issued pursuant to an Attorney General's investigation, was served upon him on March 20, 2002. The warrant reportedly sought some checks that Garcia had written to Sheriff's Office employees to perform work at his home in 1995. Garcia claims that although he was innocent of any wrongdoing, Speziale, through a subordinate, told him that he would be fired unless he agreed to take an unpaid leave of absence until the Attorney Gerneral's office confirmed that it would not prosecute Garcia. Garcia, claiming to be intimidated and coerced, agreed to the unpaid leave of absence.

During his ten-month leave of absence, Garcia claims that he discovered that Speziale, who had become sheriff in January 2002, had taken retaliatory action against other sheriff's office employees who were Latino American or who had served under Speziale's precedessor. According to Garcia, this caused him to become involved in setting up a February 19, 2003 meeting where Speziale's alleged propensity to discriminate against Latino Americans could be discussed.

But, Garcia alleges, when Speziale learned of the meeting and Garcia's involvement with it, he fired him and had an attorney, Harley D. Briete, write him a February 16, 2003 letter that allegedly "contained numerous false and malicious allegations against Garcia, including . . . that the AG's Office had made 'preliminary findings' that Garcia had violated the law." He further alleges that the letter "referenced confidential materials from Garcia's personnel file, inlcuing . . . a psychological evaluation."

Garcia then accuses Speziale and Breite of distributing the February 16, 2003 letter to the media, wich resulted in the Herald News and The Record writing negative and embarrassing articles about him.

Finally, Garcia claims that another Sheriff's Office official, Robert D'Arco, wrote to the Division of Pensions and Benefits asking whether it was appropriate for Garcia to forfeit his pension. Garcia alleges that D'Arco sent the letter, which was said to contain "numerous fase and malicious" statements, at Speziale's direction and also sent copies to "each and every member of the Passaic County Board of Chosen Freeholders."

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.

The case is captioned Garcia v. County of Passaic, Federal Case No. 2:04-cv-00650 and Garcia's attorney was David W. Fassett of Chatham. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Garcia's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $150,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Passaic or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Passaic or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Garcia $150,000 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.

Burlington pays $3,500 to settle police false arrest suit

On January 2, 2010, the Township of Burlington (Burlington County) agreed to pay $3,500 to a Township man who sued members of the Burlington Police Department and WalMart for an alleged false arrest.

In his suit, Robert E. Willitts said that on April 22, 2008, he was shopping at the WalMart at 2106 Mt.Holly Road in Burlington Township. He said that he was falsely arrested by store security guards Robert Lawrie and Matthew Wyatt and Burlington Township Police Officers Mark S. Corandan and Adam Worrell. He claims to have been handcuffed, placed in a squad car and taken to the police station where he was fingerprinted and photographed. The period of detention allegedly was four to five hours. Willitts alleges that all the charges against him were later dismissed.

It is unknown whether WalMart and its security officers paid additional settlement sums to Willitts.

The case is captioned Willitts v. Burlington Township, Federal Case No. 1:09-cv-05438 and Willitts's attorney was James Logan, Jr. of Mount Holly. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Willitts's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $3,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Burlington or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Burlington or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Willitts $3,500 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, April 4, 2010

Dennis Township pays $50,000 to settle suit alleging that Code Officer caused vehicles to be destroyed

On December 7, 2009, the Township of Dennis (Cape May County) agreed to pay $50,000 to a man who sued the Township Code Enforcement Official as well as his neighbor and a local auto salvage yard for allegedly improperly taking two cars, a boat and a school bus off his property and for destroying the two cars.

In his suit, Fletcher Mack, claims that that he is the attorney in fact for Jack Lee Colins, who is the owner of a property at 264 Stipson Island Road in Dennis Township. Mack first claims that Thomas V. Whelam--an adjoining property owner--made an anonymous offer to purchase the Stipson Island Road property in June 2006 and subsequently had his attorney send a letter to Dennis Code Enforcement Official Robert Milcarck complaining about the condition of the property.

Then, in March 2007, Mack claimed that he noticed that Mr. Colins' 41 foot boat, and 1998 Saturn, as well as Mack's own 1979 Cadillac and a school bus were missing from the property and that the yard had been dug up by heavy equipment tires. He alleges that he met with a State Trooper at Ray's Auto Salvage, owned by Ray Bozarth, and observed that "the two cars had already been destroyed and crushed and that the bus was parked in the yard [but] the whereabouts of the boat was unknown."

Bozarth allegedly told the Trooper that Code Enforcement Officer Milcarck had instructed him to enter on to the Stipson Island Road property and seize and remove the school bus, the cars and the boat. After learning this, Mack claims that he went to the Dennis Township municipal building and confronted Milcarck. He claims that Milcarck presented him with a notice, dated October 15, 2006, that apparently authorized the removal of the boat and vehicles from the property. Mack claims that he had never before seen that notice, that Milcarck couldn't produce evidence that it had been mailed to him and "that the ink on the document appeared and smelled fresh."

Mack claimed damages of $50,000 for the value of the boat, bus and two cars and claimed that the defendants--Dennis Township, Code Officer Milcarck, neighbor Whelam and Ray Bozarth/Ray's Auto Salvage--were liable for these damages.

The case is captioned Mack v. The Township of Dennis, et al, Federal Case No. 08-cv-00537 and Mack's attorney was David R. Castellani of Northfield. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Mack's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $50,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Dennis Township or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Dennis or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Mack $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.