Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Pleasantville pays $45,000 to settle police false arrest suit

On March 22, 2013, the City of Pleasantville (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $45,000 to a Vineland man who sued members of the Pleasantville Police Department for allegedly arresting him without probable cause and continuing to prosecute him even after they knew he wasn't guilty.

In his suit, Tyrone Mozelle said that on August 4, 2010, he was visiting his elderly parents when someone had entered a neighboring apartment and stole $70.  He claims that even though a surveillance video "clearly undermines" any accusation that he was the thief, Pleasantville police arrested him for 3rd Degree Burglary and held him under $25,000 bail.  Unable to post bail, Mozelle claimed that he was held in jail for six months.  He stated that even though the police knew better, they "intentionally made misstatements in their reports" and "persisted in the prosecution" of him. According to the lawsuit, the court ultimately dismissed all charges against him.

Named in the suit were Pleasantville Police Chief Duane N. Comeaux, Mayor Jesse L. Tweedle, Sr., Detective Steven V. Sample and Patrolmen Charlie L. Ellis, Michael Gazo and Norman Dennis.

The case is captioned Mozelle v. Pleasantville, Federal Case No. 12-cv-01700 and Mozelle's attorney was Reza Mazaheri of New York.  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 Mozelle's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $45,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Pleasantville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Pleasantville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Mozelle $45,000 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.