Friday, August 23, 2013

Gloucester Township pays $167,765.38 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On July 12, 2013, the Township of Gloucester (Camden County) agreed to pay $167,765.38 to two roommates who sued members of the Gloucester Township Police Department for allegedly entering their home without a warrant, falsely charging and beating them.

In their suit, Marc Pizzo and Jamie Slimm said that on October 17, 2010, Slimm had called the Gloucester Township Police Department's non-emergency number to make an inquiry "regarding Pizzo including but not limited to the status of a past citation."  This call allegedly caused Sergeant Mark Benton and Police Officers Dwayne Pietzsch and Paul Bertini to respond. 

Upon arrival, the officers allegedly demanded entry and broke down the front door after Slimm had told them that they were not needed and while she was on the telephone with an attorney.  Slimm alleges that the police officers ordered her to lie on the floor where they "used unnecessary force against her" and charged her with "false and unsustainable criminal charges."  Pizzo claims that the officers "repeatedly and aggressively struck [him] with their legs and arms" and carried him out of the home handcuffed "while he could barely walk and was going in and out of consciousness."

Of the settlement amount, Slimm received $10,000 and Pizzo received $62,234.62 with the remainder going to their attorney.

The cases are captioned Pizzo v. Gloucester and Slimm v. Gloucester, Federal Case Nos. 1:11-cv-00673 and 1:11-cv-06207 and Pizzo and Slimm's attorney was Ari R. Karpf of Bensalem, PA. 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 Pizzo's or Slimm's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $167,765.38 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Gloucester or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Gloucester or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pizzo and Slimm $167,765.38 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.