Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Seaside Heights pays $75,000 to settle police brutality suit

On August 18, 2010, the Borough of Seaside Heights (Ocean County) agreed to pay $75,000 to a pair of Rahway residents who sued members of the Seaside Heights Police Department for allegedly using excessive force against the man and falsely arresting both the man and the woman.

In their suit, Anton Maricic and Audrone Jurgeleviciene said that on September 2, 2007 they were walking on the boardwalk back to their car after taking Jurgeleviciene's daughter and four year old grandson to an amusement park. Maricic alleged that he was carrying the grandson's toy sword and was "gesturing with it in a joking fashion to various parts of the boardwalk."

After a passerby allegedly "uttered a vulgarity" to Maricic and Maricic "returned the vulgarity" the group went back to where their car was parked. At this point, Maricic alleges, he was "pushed by" Patrolman Joseph Minialga and Sergeant Jon Lombardi and was told to "keep moving." Maricic, who claims to have a "dislocated shoulder and rotator cuff injury" which prevents him from putting his arms behind his back, stated that it was a free country and that he had done nothing wrong.

He alleges that the officers then put him in a chokehold and "yank[ed] his arms behind his back and handcuff[ed] him, causing him to experience excruciating pain." When Jurgeleviciene tried to assist, she was allegedly arrested as well.

Also named in the suit was Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd.

The case is captioned Maricic et al v. Seaside Heights, Federal Case No. 3:08-cv-03088 and the pair's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold. 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 the pair'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 Seaside Heights or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Seaside Heights or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the pair $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.