Sunday, July 24, 2011

Egg Harbor Township pays $32,500 to settle police false arrest/intimidation suit

On November 17, 2008, the Township of Egg Harbor (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $32,500 to a man who sued members of the Egg Harbor Township Police Department for allegedly beating him and arresting him without probable cause.

According to a June 8, 2008 federal court opinion, Pierre Reid, Sr. said that he was falsely arrested by Patrolmen Scott Nell, Michael Steinman, Christopher Mozitis, Anthony Venuto, William Reed and Jeffrey Lancaster and Lieutenant Larry Szapor on September 13, 2003. The arrest arose out of domestic violence charges brought against Reid by his former girlfriend Michelle Nieves. The second count of Reid's lawsuit alleges that Szapor, Steinman, Mozitis, Venuto, Reed and Lancaster hurled "racial slurs and profanity" at him and "maced him uncontrollably" in the face and genitals while again arresting him two days later on September 15, 2003.

The crux of Reid's complaints is that Patrolman Scott Nell was allegedly in a romantic relationship with Michelle Nieves and that Nell and Nieves conspired to falsely assert domestic violence charges against Reid. According to a footnote in the court decision, "Nell and Nieves became romantically involved and were married in December of 2004."

Also named as plaintiffs in the suit were Pierre Reid, Jr., Kristen Amber Reed and Victor Nelson. Also named as defendants were Michelle Nieves, Patrolman Michael Bordonaro and the Township of Egg Harbor.

The case is captioned Reid v. Nell, et al, Federal Case No. 1:05-cv-04885-RMB-JS and Reid's attorney was Ericka A. Appenzeller of Atlantic City. 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 Reid's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $32,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Egg Harbor or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Egg Harbor or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Reid $32,500 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, July 19, 2011

Merchantville pays $11,000 to settle suit alleging illegal MV stop

On May 11, 2011, the Borough of Merchantville (Camden County) agreed to pay $11,000 to a Pennsauken man who sued members of the Merchantville Police Department for allegedly stopping his vehicle and arresting him for Driving While Intoxicated without probable cause.

In his suit, Alan Donia said that on September 23, 2007, he was stopped in Pennsauken by Merchantville Police Sergeant Jeffrey Brocious, Sergeant Michael Reilly and Officer Matthew Rull and arrested for drunk driving, refusing to submit to a breath test and careless driving. After being convicted in municipal court, Donia claimed that Superior Court Judge William J. Cook reversed his conviction, finding that "there was no probable cause for the police to stop Alan Donia's vehicle and arrest him."

The case is captioned Donia v. Merchantville, Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-2623-09 and Donia's attorney was Kimberly Stuart Kluchnick of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here.

None of Donia's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $11,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Merchantville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Merchantville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Donia $11,000 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, July 7, 2011

Bayonne pays $95,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On May 25, 2011, the City of Bayonne (Hudson County) agreed to pay $95,000 to two local men who sued members of the Bayonne Police Department for allegedly beating them and arresting them without probable cause.

In their suit, Michael Condo and Craig S. DeRocco said that they were assaulted by police as they left Fratelli's Bar on Broadway, Bayonne on March 18, 2007. Specifically, Condo said that Bayonne Police Detective David Macre beat, kicked and threw him to the ground while cursing at him. DeRocco claimed that Officer Dominick Lillo tackled him and punched him "numerous times in the face and head." DeRocco also claimed that Lillo kicked DeRocco's sister when she asked him to stop beating her brother. The men also accused Detectives William Peterson and Timothy Carey as well as Sergeant Timothy McAuliffe of "assaulting other individuals" who were in the area.

Both men claimed that they were taken to Bayonne Hospital's Emergency room while handcuffed and then taken back to the police department where they were "booked, searched and detained." Both men said that they were charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest but that all charges were administratively dismissed by the Hudson County Prosecutor on December 3, 2007.

The case is captioned Condo and DeRocco v. City of Bayonne, Federal Case No. 2:09-cv-01215 and the men were represented by Ida Cambria of New Brunswick. Case documents are on-line here.

None of the men's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $95,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bayonne or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bayonne or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the men $95,000 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.