Saturday, August 31, 2013

Seaside Heights pays $25,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On April 18, 2013, the Borough of Seaside Heights (Ocean County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a Bayville man who sued members of the Seaside Heights Police Department for assaulting and applying excessive force upon him.

In his suit, Dennis Clay said that on July 18, 2009, he was walking to his car when "assaulted" by Seaside Heights Sergeant Richard Roemmele and Patrolmen Joseph Regan, John Clarizio, Richard Sasso and [no first name given] Bellavance. While being transported in a police van, Clay claims that the driver purposefully applied the brakes causing "his body to hit the interior of the vehicle."

Also named in the suit were Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd, Detective Stephen Korman and Sergeant James Hans.

The case is captioned Clay v. Seaside Heights, 3:11-cv-00924 and Clay's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  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 Clay's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Seaside Heights or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Seaside Heights or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Clay $25,000 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.