On April 15, 2014, the City of Hackensack (Bergen County) agreed to pay $50,000 to a local businessman and his family who sued members of the Hackensack Police Department for excessive force and hate crime violations.
In his suit, Fouad Dakka said that on April 7, 2007, he brought his 11 year old daughter to the Hackensack Police Department at the direction of Detective Tina M. Clouse in order to be processed under a complaint "that some other girl filed against her in retaliation for plaintiff's daughter having filed a complaint against this girl." He said that because he was Muslim and of Arab descent, he was nervous and arranged to have an attorney be with him during this encounter with police. Dakka claimed that when he arrived at the police station, he advised Clouse that his attorney was parking his car and would be in the station to accompany them in a moment.
Clouse allegedly "became extremely irate, indicated that she refused to wait even a second for any attorney or for any reason . . . [because] it is Saturday and she was already late for her personal plans for that day." Dakka alleged that Clouse "lunged forward at" the 11-year-old, grabbed her arm and attempted to pull her into the police department. Dakka said that he and his daughter were hugging each other protectively while she was being pulled by Clouse.
At this point, Dakka claimed that Officer Allen Borntrager and Lieutenant Donald J. Lee, Jr. grabbed him and "threw him to the ground in a violent manner, in front of his two minor daughters, his 5 year old son, and his wife." The officers then allegedly "beat him with arms, knees and legs, forcing his face and body into the ground" and "then picked him up, shoved him into the wall of the outside of the police station and searched him."
Various police officers then allegedly taunted him with statements such as that he was a "typical Arab" and a "f***ing terrorist" and said things such as "this is my house, and we are the boss in our house. This is not no cave in the desert."
Dakka said that he was charged with Aggravated Assault but was eventually acquitted of the charge.
Also named in the suit was Hackensack Police Captain David B. Walsh.
The case is captioned Dakka v. Hackensack, Federal Case No. 2:09-cv-04564 and Dakka's attorney was Douglas C. Anton of Hackensack. 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 Dakka's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $50,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Hackensack or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Hackensack or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Dakka $50,000 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.