Saturday, August 31, 2013

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

On July 2, 2013, the Borough of Seaside Heights (Ocean County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a Howell woman who sued members of the Seaside Heights Police Department for assaulting her, taunting her and spraying her with OC spray. 

In her suit, Sabrina Jarmolinski said that on August 14, 2011, she was sitting on a boardwalk bench with four friends when she encountered Patrolman Justin Heffernan.  She claims that Heffernan cursed and screamed at her and her friends, telling them that they have to "f***ing leave" or that they would be "f***ing arrested."  When Jarmolinski informed Heffernan that she was a Criminal Justice major and wanted to know why Heffernan was cursing at her and her friends, Heffernan allegedly grabbed her by the neck, threw her down and put his knee into her back.  Jarmolinski claimed that Heffernan then sprayed her with OC spray while she was on the ground and in handcuffs and whispered in her ear "How does that feel, Criminal Justice major?"

Also named in the suit were Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd, Detective Stephen Korman and Sergeants James Hans and Richard Roemmele and Patrolman John Roth.

The case is captioned Jarmolinski v. Seaside Heights, 3:12-cv-05529 and Jarmolinski'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 Jarmolinski'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 Jarmolinski $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.