Monday, July 8, 2013

NJ State Police pay $42,000 to settle false arrest lawsuit

On April 30, 2013, the State of New Jersey agreed to pay $42,000 to two brothers who sued two State Troopers for falsely arresting them and depriving one of them of his prescription medication.

In their suit, Kevin and Robert Menke of Mohrsville, Pennsylvania said that on June 13, 2008 they were at a convenience store in Brigantine with their vehicle parked next to an unmarked SUV occupied by State Troopers Michael Baker and Michael Stonnell, who were both in civilian clothing.

While Kevin was in the store, Robert, who was sitting in the car, was allegedly accused by the Troopers of "looking" at Baker.  The brothers allege that when Kevin came out of the store, the argument was still going on with neither brother knowing that Baker and Stonnell were police officers.  As the brothers were attempting to exit the parking lot in their vehicle, Baker and Stonnell allegedly continued to harass them and questioned them about whether they were selling drugs.

At this point, the brothers got out of their vehicle and approached the SUV.  When Kevin asked Baker and Stonnell whether they were police officers, Baker allegedly showed his handgun to him.  Upon seeing the gun, and still not realizing that the men were police officers, Robert called 911 on his cell phone. While placing the call, Robert claims that Stonnell pointed his gun at him and arrested him.

The Troopers allegedly confiscated Kevin's medication and wouldn't return it to him despite being told that he needed to take it to stay well.  Kevin allegedly told the Troopers that they could call his physician who would confirm that it was critical for him to take his medication.  According to the complaint, the Troopers would not call the physician resulting in Kevin becoming ill and being taken to the hospital.  At this point, the Troopers finally contacted the physician who confirmed that the medication was necessary to prevent Kevin from experiencing serious discomfort.

Baker and Stonnell charged the brothers with disorderly conduct and unlawful possession of a controlled dangerous substance.  All charges were dropped except that Kevin pled guilty to a municipal ordinance violation.

Also named in the suit was the City of Brigantine which was later dismissed from the suit.

The case is captioned Kevin and Robert Menke v. Michael Baker et al, Federal Case No. 1:10-cv-02585 and the Menkes' attorney was Anthony M. Anastasio of Lawrenceville.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Menkes' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $42,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by State of New Jersey or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that State of New Jersey or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the brothers $42,000 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.