Friday, February 25, 2011

Gloucester City pays $45,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On October 14, 2010, two officers in the Gloucester City (Camden County) Police Department agreed to pay $45,000 to a Woodbury man who sued them for allegedly falsely arresting and using excessive force against him.

In his suit, Reginal Gaines, a 45 year old, African American man, said that on July 7, 2006 he was pulled over by Gloucester City Police Officer James Little for "not having a tag light and for failing to use a turn signal." Gaines claims that Little, without provocation, sprayed mace in his face and eyes.

He alleged that Officer J. Flood (presumably Jason S. Flood) threatened to have Marco, a police dog, attack him. Further, he alleged that Officer Carlos A. DePoder tackled him to the asphalt without provocation.

Gaines stated that he was arrested, charged with disorderly conduct, obstruction and aggravated assault on a police officer held under $20,000 bail. According to a March 3, 2010 court opinion, Gaines was later found not guilty of those charges in Audubon Municipal Court.

According to the court opinion, the mobile video camera on Little's car ran out of videotape prior to the arrest and Flood's vehicle camera also did not record the police interaction with Gaines because of the way it was parked.

The two officers who settled were Little and DePoder. Also named in the suit were Gloucester City Police Chief William G. Crothers, Deputy Chief Michael Kaye, Lieutenant G. Berglund (presumably George J. Berglund) and several official from Audubon Borough. These officials, as well as Flood, were dismissed from the suit.

The case is captioned Gaines v. Gloucester City, Federal Case No. 1:08-cv-03879 and Gaines' attorney was Ronald P. Sierzega of Woodbury. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Gaines' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $45,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Gloucester City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Gloucester City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Gaines $45,000 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, February 24, 2011

East Brunswick pays $22,500 to police officer who claimed retaliation

On October 22, 2010, the Township of East Brunswick (Middlesex County) agreed to pay $22,500 to a Township police officer who claimed he was retaliated against after speaking out about the East Brunswick Police Department allegedly "engaging in illegal racial profiling" and allowing police officers who drive drunk to drive away without being charged. He also claims to have spoken out about several other safety issues, including officers in patrol cars having loaded shotguns on a rack behind their heads.

In his suit, Joseph Marcantonio, who claims to have a very high success rate in arresting drunk drivers, complained about being regularly scheduled to appear in municipal court at 9 a.m. on the mornings after he completed his shift at 4 a.m. He claims that his supervisors refused to allow him sufficient time to sleep and this resulted in increased blood pressure, sleeping disorders, anxiety and depression.

Named in the suit were East Brunswick Police Director Barry Roberson, Captain Scott Mayer, Lieutenant Alan Quercia and Sergeant George Kaltenbach.

The case is captioned Marcantonio v. East Brunswick, Superior Court Docket No. MID-L-6428-07 and Marcantonio's attorney was William H. Buckman of Moorestown. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Marcantonio'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 East Brunswick or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that East Brunswick or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Marcantonio $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.

Seaside Heights pays $30,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On January 20, 2011, the Borough of Seaside Heights (Ocean County) agreed to pay $30,000 to an Avenel man who sued members of the Seaside Heights Police Department for allegedly assaulting him.

In his suit, Justin Racelis said that on July 29, 2007, he was leaving the Bamboo Bar when Police Officer Robert Rezzonico yelled to him "Hey, f*****' retard, get over here!" After he and his friends emptied their pockets in accordance with Rezzonico's instructions, Rezzonico allegedly threatened Racelis with arrest if he said "another word." After Racelis asked Rezzonico if he was serious, Rezzonico reportedly arrested and handcuffed him.

Racelis' girlfriend then allegedly put her attorney's business card and a PBA card into Racelis' mouth, and Rezzonico reportedly took them out. After the girlfriend asked for the cards back, Rezzonico allegedly threatened to "kick her ass."

Racelis started calling out to passersby and asked them to videotape the event. At this point, Racelis alleges, Rezzonico, together with Officers Shawn Heckler, Sean J. McGinley, Matthew Quinn and Moutros Constantino, "tackled [Racelis] to the ground, rammed a knee into [his] next and maced him."

But, allegedly, a passerby by the name of George W. Kramer, did photograph the event and when police realized it, they allegedly arrested Kramer and deleted the photos from his camera. (Kramer sued and later settled for $50,000 -- see our blog post here)

Also named in the suit were Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd and Sergeant Terrence R. Farley.

The case is captioned Racelis v. Seaside Heights, Federal Case No. 3:09-cv-03066 and Racelis's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Racelis's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $30,000 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 Racelis $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.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bordentown Fire District 2 pays $13,756.98 to settle firefighter lawsuit

In August 2010, Fire District No. 2 in Bordentown Township (Burlington County) agreed to pay $13,756.98 to a career firefighter who claimed that the Fire District violated his due process rights when it suspended him without pay for three months. As part of the settlement, the firefighter--David J. MacFarland of Florence--agreed to resign effective December 31, 2009.

In his suit, MacFarland claimed that he was suspended by the Fire District on January 29, 2009 based on a psychogist's evaluation deeming him unfit for duty. He said that the suspension was procedurally defective because it did not provide him with meaningful notice and an opportunity to be heard. He also said that the suspension was "ludicrous and irrational" because he was already excused from duty for medical reasons when the suspension was imposed.

Named in the suit were Fire Commissioners Stephen Monson, Matt Dillon, Joseph Fresco, Andrew Watson and David Horsnall.

The case is captioned MacFarland v. Commissioners of Fire District No. 2, Federal Case No. 1:09-cv-02865 and MacFarland's attorney was John F. Pilles, Jr. of Mount Holly. Case documents are on-line here.

None of MacFarland's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement expressly states that the $13,756.98 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Fire District or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the Fire District or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay MacFarland $13,756.98 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, February 16, 2011

Ridgefield pays $7,500 to settle police false arrest suit

On April 30, 2010, the Borough of Ridgefield (Bergen County) agreed to pay $7,500 to a developmentally disabled man who sued members of the Ridgefield Police Department for allegedly falsely arresting and maliciously prosecuting him.

In his suit, Bryan Parker said that he was at a Little League field on July 7, 2006 when he was taunted and teased by several teenage boys. Among them was Julian Benitez, who is also named as defendant in the suit.

Parker, who said that he became afraid, called the police. When Ridgefield Police Officers Robert Katz, Joseph Castellitto, Hagop Cigercioglu, Robert Williams and Richard Besser responded, Benitez allegedly told them that "Parker had touched him on the butt and rubbed his leg."

Benitez's allegation caused Katz to arrest him and charge him with criminal sexual contact. He was released on his own recognizance after being in custody for about three hours. The charge was reportedly amended to harassment and was later dismissed by the municipal court.

The complaint alleges that subsequent police interviews of Benitez revealed "contradictions that called into doubt his credibility." Even though Police Chief John Bogovich was aware of the contradictions prior to Parker's first court hearing, he allegedly did nothing to stop his prosecution from continuing.

The case is captioned Parker v. Ridgefield, Federal Case No. 2:08-cv-3226 and Parker's attorney was Stephen M. Latimer of Hackensack. 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.

The settlement agreement releases only Ridgefield and its officers, not Julian Benitez. According to an October 1, 2010 article in the Record, Benitez will be representing himself in the trial of the case.

None of Parker'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 Ridgefield or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Ridgefield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Parker $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, February 15, 2011

Camden County pays $400,000 to settle wrongful death action

On July 16, 2008, the County of Camden agreed to pay $400,000 to a estate of man who hanged himself while incarcerated at the Camden County Correctional Facility (CCCF).

In her suit, Agnes E. Walls, administratrix of the estate of Christopher L. Miller, claimed that CCCF officials ignored Miller's repeated threats of suicide while he was incarcerated in early January 2005. According to the suit, Miller allegedly "begged [the guards] to again place him in restraints, so as to prevent him from taking his own life." He reportedly hanged himself after guards "turned a deaf ear to his entreaties and ignored his prayer for help."

Named in the suit were Facility Warden Eric Taylor and CCCF officers Harry Sweeten, Troy Jones, Walter Radlinger, Glen Titus, Donald Souder, Christopher Burcii, J. DeForge, and Donovan Washington.

According to a July 16, 2008 settlement, the County agreed to pay Walls $300,000 of the $400,000 settlement immediately and work with her to file direct claims against CFG Health Systems, LLC and Steininger Behavioral Care Services, who appear to be private contractors retained by the County. According to a December 3, 2009 release, the County recovered a total of $150,000 from CFG and Steininger.

The case is captioned Walls v. County of Camden, Federal Case No. 1:06-cv-05961 and Walls' attorney was Philip Stephen Fuoco of Haddonfield. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Walls' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $400,000 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 Walls $400,000 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.

Asbury Park pays $10,000 to settle police false arrest suit

On January 24, 2010, the City of Asbury Park (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $10,000 to a local woman who sued Asbury Park Police Officer Michael Paulk for falsely arresting her.

In her suit, Lissa McQueen said that on June 30, 2008, she smelled an odor coming from a boarded-up house next door to her residence. She claimed that she knocked on the door to speak to the occupants about the odor when she was approached by Paulk who accused her of trespassing and being engaged in drug activity. She said that after she became upset at these accusations, Paulk handcuffed her, took her to the policy station and charged her with disorderly conduct. She claims that the charges were dismissed by the court on October 14, 2008.

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 McQueen v. Asbury Park, Federal Case No. 3:09-cv-02657 and McQueen's attorney was Dwight P. Ransom of Neptune. Case documents are on-line here.

None of McQueen'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 Asbury Park or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Asbury Park or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay McQueen $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, February 10, 2011

Camden school board pays $75,000 to settle teacher's suit

On October 23, 2009, the Camden Board of Education (Camden County) agreed to pay $75,000 to a former fifth-grade teacher who claimed that the Board retaliated against him after after he brought public attention to a vice principal allegedly making Hispanic students eat their lunch off the cafeteria's floor.

In his suit, Jose L. Rivera of Vineland said in February 2008, one of the students in his bi-lingual class, consisting exclusively of Hispanic students, spilled some water on the floor while trying to change a jug of water on a water cooler. This incident allegedly happened on day when Rivera was absent and a substitute was teaching the class.

He alleges that as a result of this accident, Vice Principal Theresa Brown "decided to punish the whole class [by making the Hispanic children] eat lunch on the floor of the cafeteria without trays, while the African-American and mixed classes sat at the lunch table with trays. This went on for more than a week before [Rivera] learned of the punishment."

Rivera reported that his students told him that Vice Principal Brown had threatened them with more punishment if they told anyone about having to eat off the floor. Rivera, who said he feared retaliation, advised his students to tell their parents of the punishment and have the parents call the Board of Education. In his suit, Rivera said that he didn't report the matter to Acting Principal Alex DeFlavia because he felt that he would "be either indifferent to or in support of" the punishment.

After the Board received parents' complaints, Rivera said that the Board reprimanded and suspended him "for failing to notify the principal, even though the principal already knew and had taken no action." He said that he "never worked another day" for the Board, but that Vice Principal Brown was not fired but transferred to another school.

The case is captioned Rivera v. Camden Board of Education, Federal Case No. 1:08-cv-04306 and Rivera's attorney was Alan H. Schorr of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Rivera'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 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 Rivera $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.

Robbinsville pays $9,000 to settle lawsuit by former Playgirl Man of the Year

On January 10, 2011, the Township of Robbinsville (Mercer County) agreed to pay $9,000 to a California man who sued Mayor David Fried, Police Chief Martin Masseroni and Township Administrator Mary K. Cafferty for reneging on an employment offer.

In his suit, John M. Holliday said that in 2007 he was offered a position as a Robbinsville police officer. After he completed the application process and accepted the position, he claims that he began moving his wife and family from California to New Jersey. Holliday alleges, however, that on October 9, 2007, the Township revoked its employment offer claiming that Holliday had "lacked full disclosure of his employment history."

Acording to an article in the October 16, 2009 Trentonian ("Playgirl hunk suing R'ville over disputed officer's job," by Joe D'Aqula), Holliday's employment offer was revoked because he was a former "Playgirl Magazine Man of the Year" who posed nude for the magazine.

The case is captioned Holliday v. Robbinsville, New Jersey Superior Court, Docket No. MER-L-2514-09 and Holliday's attorney was Raymond C. Staub of Trenton. 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 Holliday's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $9,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Robbinsville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Robbinsville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Holliday $9,000 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.