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

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Little Egg Harbor pays $15,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On June 15, 2012, the Township of Little Egg Harbor (Ocean County) agreed to pay $15,000 to a diabetic heart transplant patient who sued members of the Township's Police Department for allegedly forcefully throwing him on the ground and putting handcuffs on him too tightly.

In his suit, Ciro Esposito said that he was in a local Rite Aid Pharmacy on December 28, 2007 to pick up a prescription.  A dispute arose between the pharmacist and Esposito and Esposito "insisted that the pharmacist call the police."  Officers Eric Nelson and Kevin Hogan, who allegedly knew of Esposito's medical condition, arrived at the scene and allegedly "forcibly grabbed [Esposito] by the arm and roughly escorted him out of the premises" where Esposito claims that the officers "threw him to the ground in an excessively forceful manner, striking his face on the floor."  He said that the officers handcuffed him "with such force that his arms and wrists were bruised."  Also named in the suit were Little Egg Harbor Police Chief Mark Siino.

The case is captioned Esposito v. Little Egg Harbor, Federal Case No. 3:08-cv-03725 and Esposito's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Esposito's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $15,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Little Egg Harbor or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Little Egg Harbor or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Esposito $15,000 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.

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.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Lawrence pays $104,689.22 to settle police officer's back pay lawsuit

On June 7, 2012, the Township of Lawrence (Mercer County) agreed to pay $104,689.22 to a Township police officer who sued the Township for back pay for the time he was out of work waiting for a favorable disposition of criminal charges brought against him.

In his suit, Todd Sparks said that he was suspended without pay on March 16, 2010 after having been charged with third degree theft by deception.  The indictment against him was dismissed on April 26, 2011.  During his period of suspension, Sparks claims that he is due back salary, vacation days, uniform allowance and other benefits he would have received had he not been suspended.

The case is captioned Sparks v. Lawrence, Mercer County Superior Court Docket No. L-1746-11 and Sparks's attorney was Christopher A. Gray of Marlton.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Sparks's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $104,689.22 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lawrence or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lawrence or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Sparks $104,689.22 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.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Camden Board of Education pays $500,000 to students who were forced to eat on cafeteria floor

On July 30, 2012, the Camden City Board of Education (Camden County) agreed to pay $500,000 to seven Hispanic, fifth graders who were students at the Sumner Elementary School.  The seven students claimed that Vice Principal Theresa Brown forced them to "eat lunch on the floor of the cafeteria without trays" as punishment for one student spilling a jug of water.  According to the lawsuit, Brown allegedly threatened the children with further punishment if they told anyone about the punishment.  Each of the seven students will receive $71,428.57, less their share of their attorney fees to be calculated by the court.

On October 23, 2009, the Board settled with Jose L. Rivera, the students' teacher, who claimed that he was retaliated against for bringing public attention to the cafeteria punishment. More on that settlement is available here.

The students' case is captioned J.G., et al v. City of Camden Board of Education, Federal Case No. 1:10-cv-01047 and seven students' attorney was Alan B. Schorr of Cherry Hill.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of students' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement implies that the $500,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Camden Board or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that the Camden Board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay seven students $500,000 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.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Brick pays $275,000 to settle police shooting suit

On July 16, 2012, the Township of Brick (Ocean County) agreed to pay $275,000 to a local man who sued members of the Brick Police Department for allegedly unnecessarily shooting him in the hip.

In his suit, Salim Cofi said that on January 8, 2009, he was in a Waterside Garden Apartment when Brick Police Sergeant Terrance Covert shot him in the hip, causing a fractured femur.  Cofi claims to have been unarmed at the time.  He further claims that after being shot, police handcuffed him and "then conversed among themselves for an extended period of time before transport to the hospital was arranged."

Cofi claimed that he was arrested for cocaine possession but ended up taking a guilty plea to a disorderly persons violation, which required only the payment of fines and costs and not jail time or probation.

Also named in the suit were Lieutenant Frank Docherty, Sergeant Todd Friedman, Investigators Kristopher Demarco, Michael Pluta, and Kenneth Hess and Patrolman Lawrence Petrola.

The case is captioned Cofi v. Brick Township, Federal Case No. 3:2011-cv-00087 and Cofi's attorney was Jeffrey S. Arons of South Orange.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Cofi's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $275,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Brick or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Brick or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Cofi $275,000 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.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Clayton and Elk pay $20,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On June 25, 2012, the Borough of Clayton and Township of Elk (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $20,000 to a Clayton man who sued members of the Clayton and Elk Police Departments for allegedly arresting him on fabricated charges and for applying excessive force to him.

In his suit, Murray Celestine said that on April 8, 2008, he and his girlfriend, Marlena Hunsinger, who had just had an argument, were sitting on their front porch talking calmly.  Clayton Police Officer Michael J. Foley, Jr. then arrived.  According to the lawsuit, Celestine and Foley walked out into the back yard where Celestine told Foley that "every was fine at that time."  Foley then allegedly had Celestine put his hands on Hunsinger's van that was parked in the driveway so that Foley could frisk him. Meanwhile, Elk Township Officer Michael Bielski allegedly came into the back yard and "began putting black gloves on both of this hands."  After Celestine expressed that Bielski's actions made him uncomfortable, Bielski, at Foley's request, allegedly went into the front yard. 

During the frisk, Celestine said that he started to turn to his right in order to talk to Foley.  At this point, Foley allegedly grabbed Celestine's right wrist and told him he was under arrest for domestic violence.  During the arrest, Foley allegedly pushed Celestine "so hard that Mr. Celestine's hand snapped the antenna off" the van that he was leaning against.  Celestine claims that Foley put him in a "bear hug" and "slammed him to the ground" resulting in Celestine breaking his wrist and Foley dislocating his shoulder. This event was allegedly followed by Bielski jumping on top of Celestine, pushing his face into the ground and hitting him with his right fist.  Elk Officer Joseph Pierson then handcuffed Celestine.

After Clayton Police Sergeant John Dick filed an allegedly "false criminal charges against" him, Celestine spent the night in the Gloucester County Jail.  Celestine claims that he was diagnosed at a hospital with "a concussion, wrist fracture and lumbar strain."

The case is captioned Celestine v. Foley, et al, Federal Case No. 1:10-cv-01775 and Celestine's attorney was George R. Szymanski of Laurel Springs.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Celestine's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $20,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Clayton or Elk or any of their officials. All that is known for sure is that Clayton and Elk or their insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Celestine $20,000 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.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Passaic County pays $49,000 to mother for death of her son.


On July 13, 2012, the County of Passaic agreed to pay $49,000 to a woman whose son died in jail after allegedly not receiving needed medical treatment.

In her suit, Anita Jackson said that her son, John E. Jackson, died on March 15, 2007 while in custody at the Passaic County Jail.  She claims that her son became "extremely ill while incarcerated" but, despite numerous requested for treatment, "the nurse employed by the Passaic County Jail took no action."

Also named in the suit was the United States Marshal Service.  The Marshall Service, however, is not named in the settlement agreement and may have settled separately with Jackson.

The case is captioned Jackson v. County of Passaic, Federal Case No. 2:09-cv-01134 and Jackson's attorney was Shannon Garrahan of Oradell.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Jackson's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $49,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Passaic or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Passaic or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Jackson $49,000 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.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Essex County pays $30,000 to settle jail guard assault case

On June 18, 2012, the County of Essex agreed to pay $30,000 to a Irvington man who sued the County's correctional facility and several corrections officers for allegedly assaulting him.

In his suit, Lester Seeley said that on December 15, 2007 Essex County Corrections Officers Jermaine Baptiste, Bruce Moore, Danny Smith and Fuquan Countryman repeatedly assaulted him "deliberately, maliciously and with willful indifference."  No further details are contained in the lawsuit.  Seeley also named Essex County Sheriff Armando B. Fontoura in the suit.

The case is captioned Seeley v. Essex County Correctional Facility et al, Case No. 2:2010-cv-00706 and Seeley's attorney was Kevin C. Corriston of Hackensack.  Case documents are on-line here.

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