Sunday, May 30, 2010

Point Pleasant Beach pays $10,000 to MTV star to settle police assault claim

On January 28, 2010, the Borough of Point Pleasant Beach (Ocean County) agreed to pay $10,000 to an MTV star who lives in Elmwood Park and who sued members of the Point Pleasant Beach Police Department for allegedly assaulting him.

The MTV star who is plaintiff in the lawsuit is named Thomas J. Perno. An Internet search suggests, but does not prove, that Perno played "Tommy Cheeseballs" in MTV's "True Life."

In his suit, Perno said that he and his friends went to Jenkinson's in Point Pleasant Beach on July 22, 2006. Perno claims that even though he is a celebrity, he and his friends "maintained a low profile and drew no attention to themselves." Despite this, Perno was recognized and "accosted because of his appearance and speech in the [MTV] special."

He claimed to have been "assaulted and injured" by "bouncers" or other Jenkinson's employees. He further claimed that Point Pleasant Beach police officer Robert Kowalewski came to the scene and "further assaulted" him. Perno said that he had done nothing wrong and the Jenkinsons employees and Officer Kowalewski assaulted him to "put him in his place because of his fame and status as a public figure through the MTV special and his following."

The case is captioned Perno v. Borough of Point Pleasant Beach, Federal Case No. 3:07-cv-02627 and Perno's attorney was Maurice W. McLaughlin of Totowa. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

The $10,000 settlement discharges only Point Pleasant Beach Borough and its employees from the suit. There may have been additional sums paid by or on behalf of the private defendants in the matter.

None of Perno's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $10,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Point Pleasant Beach or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Point Pleasant Beach or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Perno $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, May 28, 2010

Spring Lake Heights pays $7,500 to settle police brutality suit

On January 17, 2010, the Borough of Spring Lake Heights (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $7,500 to a Belmar man who sued members of the Spring Lake Heights Police Department for allegedly beating him. The officers named in the suit are Patrolmen Andrew O'Neil, Douglas Mayer, Christopher Bennett, Edward Gunnell and Sergeant Barry Johnstone.

In his suit, Joseph Dellago said that on July 14, 2007, at 12:26 a.m., he was "wrongfully pulled out of his vehicle" by Patrolman O'Neil. He said that O'Neil "put his foot or knee on [his] neck and head area and was pushing his head into the macadam." He said that another officer "kicked [him] very hard in the testicles while [he] was lying prone on the ground after having been handcuffed."

The case is captioned Dellago v. Spring Lake Heights, Federal Case No. 3:09-cv-04231 and Dellago's attorney was Edward A. Genz of Brick. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Dellago'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 Spring Lake Heights or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Spring Lake Heights or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Dellago $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.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Springfield pays $250,000 to settle lawsuit filed by two township cops

On March 18, 2010, the Township of Springfield (Union County) agreed to pay $250,000 to two police officers who sued the Township and its police chief for mistreating them.

The two officers, Patrolman Walter Brooks, who is African-American, and Captain Peter Davis will receive $150,000 and $100,000 respectively. According to an April 30, 2010 Star Ledger article on the settlement, Davis continues to work for the Springfield Police Department while Brooks has been transferred to the Union County Prosecutor’s Office.

In their suit, Brooks and Davis claimed that Police Chief William Chisholm conducted himself inappropriately. As one example, Brooks claimed that Chisolm took him to a Halloween display that included a effigy of an African-American man hanging from a tree. Brooks also claimed that Chisolm manipulated the scoring of a test which deprived him of a departmental promotion.

Brooks also made the startling allegation that Chisolm purchased an armor piercing handgun and fired an armor piercing bullet into the type of bullet-proof vests that Brooks and other officers typically wore. Chisolm allegedly brought the pierced vest into police headquarters even though he knew that Captain Vernon Peterson allegedly had earlier made threats against Brooks' life. Peterson, according to Brooks' complaint, had a history of telling racist jokes within earshot of Brooks.

Davis' allegations stem from a February 17, 2009 deposition that he gave in Brooks' lawsuit. After Davis testified in a manner critical of Chisholm, Chisholm allegedly retaliated against him by assigning him to the midnight shift.

The case is captioned Brooks and Davis v. Springfield, Docket No. UNN-L-137-08 and Brooks' and Davis' attorney was Mark Mulick of Montclair. Case documents are on-line here.

Also included at the above link are two written decisions by Union County Superior Court Judge Kathryn A. Brock. The decisions provides some insight into the Springfield Police Department's inner workings. For example, the August 26, 2009 decision (page 7), reveals that in 2007, Chief Chisholm was found to have violated the Township's harassment policy and was required to successfully complete a harassment training program.

None of Brooks and Davis's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $250,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Springfield or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Springfield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Brooks and Davis $250,000 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, May 17, 2010

Elmwood Park and Rutgers University pay $12,000 to settle police false arrest malicious prosecution suit

In January 2010, the Borough of Elmwood Park (Bergen County) and Rutgers University agreed to pay $6,000 each to a Hillside man who sued members of Elmwood Park's and Rutgers' police departments for false arrest and malicious prosecution.

In his suit, Andre Shakoor said that a Rutgers student, on September 20, 2007, reported his laptop computer stolen. A campus security camera captured an image of a bearded man taking the laptop. The laptop was "equipped with a 'LoJack' tracking system which activates when a user of the computer goes on the Internet."

Shakoor alleges that he purchased a used laptop the next day for $400 from a store in East Orange. About a week later, when Shakoor went on the Internet, the LoJack monitoring agency was able to track the laptop to an Elmwood Park motel where Shakoor was staying. But, when police showed the security video to a motel clerk, she couldn't identify the bearded man.

On October 4, 2007, Rutgers Police traced the laptop to Shakoor, who had used it to pay a traffic ticket. Elmwood Park Police Officer Vincent Scillieri, along with Rutgers Police Officers Bradley Morgan, Gregg A. Hippe and Joseph Churchill, reportedly went to the motel where Shakoor was staying. There, they allegedly stopped Shakoor as he drove into the motel's parking lot and asked to search his room and car because "they were looking for drugs." Shakoor consented to the request, according to the lawsuit, although he later learned that it was based on a "false pretense."

During a search of Shakoor's room, the officers reportedly found the laptop and arrested Shakoor even though he claimed to have explained that he purchased it and even though he didn't resemble the person identified in the security video. He claimed to have been taken to the police station, fingerprinted, photographed, issued a summons and released.

On October 17, 2009, Shakoor alleged that Officers Hippe and Churchill spoke to someone at the store where Shakoor purchased the laptop and received information that led them to another man who later admitted to stealing the laptop. Shakoor's lawyer requested discovery from the Rutgers Police Department, but was allegedly not informed that police had arrested another man for stealing the laptop which resulted in Shakoor's prosecution being prolonged. According to the lawsuit, the police knew that Shakoor legitimately purchased the laptop but "refused to disclose [the arrest of the other man to Shakoor] and persisted in their prosecution of [Shakoor]. After making numerous court appearances, the charges were dismissed on the prosecutor's motion on March 26, 2009.

The case is captioned Shakoor v. Borough of Elmwood Park, et al, Federal Case No. 2:09-cv-04724-JAG-MCA and Shakoor's attorney was Paul Casteleiro of Hoboken. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Shakoor's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $12,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Elmwood Park, Rutgers or any of their officials. All that is known for sure is that Elmwood Park, Rutgers or their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Shakoor $12,000 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.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

NJDOT pays $175,000 to settle racial/gender discrimination suit

On October 27, 2009, the New Jersey Department of Transportation agreed to pay $175,000 to a Burlington County woman who sued four officers and employees of the New Jersey Department of Transportation for attempting to prevent her from receiving a promotion. The Department officials and employees named in the suit all were white males: Malcolm Palmer, Regional Construction Engineer for Region South; Paul Hofmann, who was the woman's supervisor; William Mullowney, who was the woman's Supervising Engineer and Joseph Sacco, who was a Department employee.

In her suit, Marlene Lane, an African American woman, claimed that she was a model Department employee for 21 years and in 1999 sought a promotion to the position of Principal Engineer in the region that covered Burlington County. After qualifying for the position by passing a Civil Service examination, her name was put on the Civil Service list but she did not receive either of the two Principal Engineer positions that were open.

After allegedly learning from her supervisors that no more Principal Engineer positions were going to be offered in her region, she applied for and received a promotion to Principle Engineer in the Trenton region in March 2002. However, she alleges that within six months after taking the position in Trenton, "five vacancies for Principal Engineer were open" in the Burlington region, all of which were awarded to white males.

She alleges that in 2003 she applied for one of two Principal Engineer positions in the Burlington region and was interviewed by Hofmann and Mullowney. She claimed, however, that one of positions was given to Joe Paradise, a white male who was promised the position even though he had less seniority than Lane and was not on the list for the position. She further alleges that Hofmann and Mullowney "made effort to score [her] poorly" on the interview and accused her of being untruthful when she actually was being truthful. She claims that the two men "continued during such interview to undermine [her] resume and give her a low score so that the position could be given to a white male."

In December 2003, Lane filed a discrimination complaint with the Division of Civil Rights and attached to her lawsuit a December 20, 2004 letter from the Division concluding that the Department violated the State's policy on discrimination.

The case is captioned Lane v. New Jersey Department of Transportation, et al, Federal Case No. 1:05-cv-04727-JEI-JS and Lane's attorney was Miriam Benton Barish of Cherry Hill. After the federal case was dismissed at both parties' request, the case continued in the New Jersey Superior Court, Docket No. CAM-L-1316-08. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Lane's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $175,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by New Jersey Department of Transportation or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that New Jersey Department of Transportation or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lane $175,000 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.