Monday, August 27, 2012

New Brunswick and the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office pay $120,000 to settle excessive force suit

On July 17, 2012, the City of New Brunswick and the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office (Middlesex County) agreed to pay a total of $120,000 to two local men who sued members of the New Brunswick Police Department and the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office for allegedly beating them and requiring them to sit for two hours in a cold room while handcuffed and sitting in their underwear.  According to the settlement agreement, New Brunswick paid $95,000 and the prosecutor's office paid $25,000.

In their suit, Jake Kostman and Kareem Najjar claimed that at about 4:30 a.m. on December 10, 2010, they were sleeping in their apartment when New Brunswick Police Detective Miguel Chang, Detective Drew Weiss, Detective Robert Bogdanski, Police Officer Keith Walcott and Sergeant Scott Gould, while dressed in civilian clothes, unlawfully entered their bedroom and accosted them.  According to the suit, Najjar and Kostman were "punched in the head" and "beaten about the face head and body with fists and feet."  Kostman further claimed that after he was handcuffed and lying on this stomach, police still stomped and kicked him.

Both 19-year-olds were taken the main floor of the building and were allegedly forced to sit in their underwear on the couch in front of police and others who lived in the house.  They alleged that since the front door had been kicked in by police, they had to sit in the cold for two hours while police refused their requests to clothe themselves.  When they were shivering in their underwear, one of the police officers allegedly said "I'm feeling pretty warm, I don't know about you guys."

According to Kostman and Najjar, the officers taunted them and the other occupants in the house with the insults such as "faggot" and "fat slob."  One tenant of Korean decent was reportedly told that "damn Koreans breed with the damn Japanese and those were the ones that bombed pearl harbor."  The police allegedly searched the pair's basement apartment without a warrant, found nothing and neither man was "charged with any crime and both were eventually released."

Also named in the suit were Lieutenant Daniel J. Muntone, and Investigator Donald S. Carruth of the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office,

The case is captioned Kostman and Najjar v. New Brunswick and the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office, Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-00756 and Kostman's and Najjar's attorney was Bryan Konoski of New York.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of the pair's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $120,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by New Brunswick, Middlesex County or any of their officials. All that is known for sure is that New Brunswick and the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office or their insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Kostman and Najjar $120,000 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.

ABOUT ME AND WHY I'M POSTING THIS.

I chair the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project which seeks to increase governmental transparency and accountability, particularly at a local level. For more information on the Libertarian Party, go to http://www.njlp.org.

As part of my work, I routinely check civil court cases where at least one of the parties is a government agency or official. Most often, these settlement agreements are never revealed to the public. I post them on the Libertarian Party's blog at http://njcivilsettlements.blogspot.com and other public forums because I believe that civil settlements, regardless of amount, may be of interest to citizens and taxpayers.

John Paff
Somerset, New Jersey