Thursday, January 10, 2013

Union City pays $106,500 to settle police beatdown suit

On February 24, 2012, the City of Union City (Hudson County) agreed to pay $106,500 to a local man who sued members of the Union City Police Department for allegedly beating him.

In his suit, Jean Peguero said that on May 23, 2009, he was walking his dog when approached by Union City Police Officers Alex Ruperto, Jose Castillo and Damien DiFazio and Sergeants Dominick DePinto and John Dowling.  According to the complaint, the officers had fifteen minutes earlier told a friend that they were looking for Peguero and "were going to punch [him] in the face when they saw [him]."

After surrounding Peguero, the officers reportedly told him to tie his dog to a fence and then assaulted him.  According to the lawsuit, Ruperto punched Peguero in the mouth, "knocking his head back where it struck a concrete column."  DePinto and DiFazio then reportedly continued the beating Peguero while he was on the ground.

Also named in the suit were Union City Police Chief Charles Everett and Sergeant M. Mico.

The case is captioned Peguero v. Union City, Federal Case No. 2:10-cv-01768 and Peguero's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  Case documents are on-line here.  The police officers' incident reports are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms or even the fact that the settlement exists.  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 Peguero's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $106,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Union City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Union City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Peguero $106,500 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.