Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Irvington pays $15,000 to settle police warrantless entry suit

On January 13, 2010, the Township of Irvingon (Essex County) agreed to pay $15,000 to a Clinton Avenue couple who sued the Irvingon Police Department because an officer entered the wife's bedroom without a warrant while she was "undressing and in a state of nakedness."

In their suit, Sandra Holmes-Stuckey and her husband Hazel Stuckey, Jr. said that on July 10, 2009, Officer Rashaan D. Sampson (also spelled "Samson") illegally entered her bedroon and observed her in a state of undress.  Sandra sued for a violation of her constitutional rights and Hazel sued because he was "deprived of his wife's services and consortium."

The case is captioned Holmes-Stuckey v. Irvingon, Federal Case No. 2:11-cv-00018 and Holmes-Stuckey's attorney was Otto J. Scerbo of Jersey City.  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 Holmes-Stuckey'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 Irvingon or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Irvingon or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Holmes-Stuckey and her husband $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.