Friday, October 29, 2010

Paterson pays $10,000 (or perhaps $60,000) to settle police excessive force suit

On February 2, 2010, the City of Paterson (Passaic County) agreed to pay $10,000 or perhaps $60,000 to a Totowa man who sued members of the Paterson Police Department for allegedly injuring him during an arrest.

In his suit, Carlos Colon said that on May 16, 2006 he was arrested by Police Officers D. Giles (presumably Dewayn Giles), W. Lazu (presumably Wilson Lazu), J. Bernasconi (presumably Jason D. Bernasconi), McDowell (presumably Carl L. McDowell) and Sergeant J. Wolfe (presumably Jeffrey Wolfe). He claims that the officers, while arresting him, lacerated his forehead and the rear of his head which required stitches. He also claims that the arrest exacerbated his pre-existing epilepsy.

Since there are six separate releases, each one for $10,000, it is difficult to tell if the total settlement is $10,000 or $60,000.

The case is captioned Colon v. Giles, et al, Federal Case No. 2:08-cv-03621 and Colon's attorney was Richard G. Potter of Hackensack. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Colon's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $10,000 (or $60,000) payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Paterson or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Paterson or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Colon $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.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Freehold pays $150,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On December 11, 2009, the Township of Freehold (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $150,000 to a local man who sued members of the Freehold Police Department for arresting and detaining him without cause and for injuring his wrist by applying handcuffs too tightly.

In his suit, Frank J. Constantino said that on April 21, 2007, he was driving home with his son. He claims that while he was stopped at an intersection and signaling a right turn, he noticed a bicycle approaching about 30 to 40 yards behind him on his right hand side. After making sure that his turn would not cut off the bicyclist, he claims that he safely executed his turn when the bicyclist screamed "A--hole, stop at the stop sign." Constantino claimed that he said "I did. Have a nice day" to the bicyclist and drove home.

A few minutes after he got to his home, Constantino claims that the angered bicyclist arrived and approached him and said "I am a Freehold Township Police Officer and you're under arrest." As his neighbors began to congregate around him, Constantino alleges that he asked the man for his badge or some other proof that he was indeed an officer. Then some squad cars arrived and the bicyclist, who was later identified as Officer George A. Burdge, III, allegedly "grabbed Constantino's arm, twisted his arm very aggressively behind his back and threw [him] down on his knees on his front lawn in front of his wife, children and neighbors." Burdge then allegedly applied handcuffs so tightly to cause Constantino to "yell out in pain." When Constantino asked Burdge to loosen the cuffs, he was allegedly told to "shut up."

When he was taken to the police station, Constantino claims that he was chained to a bench for three hours while Burdge denied him a request for a drink of water while the officer was drinking water in front of him and mocking him. He was given six summonses and released. He claims that all of the charges were later dismissed or resulted in not guilty verdicts. He claims that he lost his job as a specialist at the New York Stock Exchange. Also named in the suit was Freehold Police Officer Ernest Schriefer.

The case is captioned Constantino v. Freehold, Federal Case No. 3:08-cv-5159 and Constantino's attorney was Gary L. Mason of Manalapan. 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 Constantino'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 Freehold or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Freehold or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Constantino $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.

Vineland Board of Education pays $60,000 to settle "whistle blower" suit

On December 9, 2009, the Vineland Board of Education (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $60,000 to and clear the disciplinary record of the assistant principal at the Landis Intermediate School.

In his suit, Richard Panas said that beginning in the 2007-08 school year, he noticed an increase in school violence at the Landis school which coincided with the replacement of the school's disciplinary code with a less strict version. Panas said that he shared his concerns with Superintendent Charles Ottinger and Principal Donald Kohaut but neither "made any serious effort to address the situation."

After the violence at the Landis school continued to escalate, Panas contends that he contacted the Board of Education members directly and told about "his unsuccessful effort to bring [the issue] to the administration's attention." This, Panas claims, caused Ottinger to discipline him for violating the Board's policies regarding "chain of command" and "media relations." As a result of the discipline, Panas claims he was put on "indefinite probation" and was being "monitored." He claims that his attempts to appeal the discipline were unsuccessful and that Kohaut and Ottinger took additional adverse action against him, including assigning him to hallway monitoring duty, giving him an adverse performance rating and forbidding him from speaking to teachers about violence at the school.

In addition to paying Panas $60,000 in damages, the school board also agreed to expunge the discipline and evaluation from Panas' personnel file and to not retaliate against him in the future.

The case is captioned Panas v. Vineland Board of Education, Federal Case No. 1:09-cv-03003 and Panas's attorney was Frank L. Corrado of Wildwood. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Panas's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $60,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Vineland Board of Education or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Vineland Board of Education or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Panas $60,000 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, October 20, 2010

Trenton pays $12,500 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On December 1, 2009, the City of Trenton (Mercer County) agreed to pay $12,500 to a man who sued members of the Trenton Police Department for allegedly beating him and arresting him without probable cause.

In his suit, Jeffrey Bastien said that on April 23, 2006 he was in the lobby of 620 West State Street when he was "violently arrested" by Trenton Police Sergeant Benito R. Bello and other officers. He claims to have suffered "severe brusing and lacerations to his torso, face and left eye."

The case is captioned Bastien v. Trenton, Federal Case No. 3:08-cv-2022 and Bastien's attorney was David E. Sachs of Metuchen. The lawsuit and settlement agreement are on-line here.

None of Bastien's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $12,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Trenton or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Trenton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Bastien $12,500 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, 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.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Lenape Valley Regional school board pays $275,000 to settle racial slur lawsuit

On March 31, 2010, the Lenape Valley Regional Board of Education (Sussex County) agreed to pay $275,000 to a Byram Township high school student who sued the Board and Principal Douglas deMarrais for failing to take prompt, corrective action after the student's parents reported that their son had been harassed and called racial slurs. According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff was one of only 13 African-American students out of a total of 1,970 students enrolled at the high school.

The student is identified in court papers only by his initials, "E.L." His parents, however, are identified as Edward Lee, Sr. and Leanne Lee.

The case is captioned Lee v. Lenape Valley Regional, Federal Case No. 2:06-cv-04634 and Lee's attorneys were Bennet Zurofsky of Newark and Joshua Friedman of Larchmont, New York. Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publishing 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 Lee's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $275,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lenape Valley Regional or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lenape Valley Regional or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lee $275,000 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.