Monday, August 20, 2012

Millville pays $12,500 to settle police defamation and "intentional infliction of emotional distress" suit.

On July 25, 2012, the City of Millville (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $12,500 to a city man who sued his neighbor, a Millville police officer, for allegedly defaming him and causing him emotional distress.

In his suit, Paul Vidro said that he and police officer Julio Pumarejo were neighbors who were on friendly terms.  According to Vidro, Pumarejo's attitude changed when he suspected that someone in the neighborhood had called the City to report junk, unregistered vehicles in front and along side of Pumarejo's home.  Pumarejo allegedly said that if he found out who reported him to the city, he would make that person's life "miserable."

After an abruptly terminated conversation with Vidro, Pumarejo reportedly believed that Vidro was the person who called in the complaint.  But, according to Vidro, a realtor who listed a nearby house actually made the complaint.

According to Vidro's complaint, matters became worse after Pumarejo stopped by Vidro's local business and asked for some "under the table" side work while he was on disability from the police department.  Vidro claims that Pumarejo "became short" and "non-sociable" after he refused to provide him with "under the table" work.

Thereafter, Vidro claimed that his wife, based on information received from Pumarejo, angrily accused him of having a sexual affair with a neighbor.  When Vidro spoke to the neighbor's husband, he was allegedly told that Pumarejo had told the husband the same thing and that his statement was causing him marital difficulties.  According to Vidro, the neighbor's problems with Pumarejo started after the neighbor called in a noise complaint against Pumarejo.  Vidro claimed that Pumarejo's allegation about the extra-marital affair was false and defamatory.

A few months later, Vidro reportedly receiving a reckless driving summons in the mail.  The complaining witness was Pumarejo.  He claimed that Pumarejo fabricated the offense, which allegedly occurred in front of Pumarejo's house, in order to harass him.  He alleges that he was found not guilty of the violation and filed an internal affairs complaint that resulted in Pumarejo being disciplined.

Also named in the suit were Millville Police Chief Thomas Haas.

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 Vidro v. Millville, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. L-564-11 and Vidro's attorney was Louis Charles Shapiro of Vineland.  Case documents are on-line here.

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