Wednesday, February 12, 2014

State Police pay $85,000 to settle excessive force suit

On November 23, 2013, the New Jersey State Police agreed to pay $85,000 to an Aston, Pennsylvania man who claimed to have been beaten by a Trooper.

In his suit, Michael French, who also goes by Robert Michael French, said that he was arrested for drunk driving in April 2009 and taken to the State Police Barracks in Berlin Borough, Camden County, New Jersey.  He said that he was in a "physical altercation with another prisoner in the holding cell" when Trooper J. T. Squire-Tibbs "burst into the cell and hit Plaintiff in the face with a billy club, knocking Plaintiff unconscious."  He claimed that Squire-Tibbs then beat, punched and kicked him while he was on the floor unconscious."  As a result of the beating, he claimed to have received "a fractured orbital, a herniated disc and severe concussion." 

The case is captioned French v. Squire-Tibbs, Federal Case No. 1:11-cv-01009 and French's attorney was Matthew B. Weisberg of Pennsauken.  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 French's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $85,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by State or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that State or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay French $85,000 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.