Thursday, December 27, 2012

Seaside Heights pays $10,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On December 17, 2012, the Borough of Seaside Heights (Ocean County) agreed to pay $10,000 to a Brick Township man who sued members of the Seaside Heights Police Department for allegedly beating him.

In his suit, Jason Billingham said that on March 20, 2010, he was waiting for his girlfriend outside of Club Karma when he was "without justification . . . punched, maced and beaten with police batons by" Seaside Police Officers Christopher Linnell, Joseph Fastige, Edward Pasieka and Christopher Diaz. 

Also named in the suit were Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd, Sergeant James Hans and Detective Stephen Korman.

The case is captioned Billingham v. Seaside Heights, Federal Case No. 3:11-cv-00920 and Billingham's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  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 Billingham'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 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 Billingham $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.