Friday, May 30, 2014

Wildwood pays $75,000 to settle police intimidation and harassment suit.

On May 11, 2008, the City of Wildwood (Cape May County) agreed to pay $75,000 to a local bar owner who sued members of the Wildwood Police Department for allegedly harassing him and his bar patrons and issuing bogus summonses.

In his suit, Michael C. Petaccio, who operated the Fairview Cafe, said that Officer David Romeo and Sergeant Terry Osler entered his bar on two occasions and harassed his customers even though the establishment was operating legally.  In the first instance, Petaccio claimed that Romeo entered his bar on June  of 2004, prior to the mandated 3 a.m. closing time, arrested Frank Miller, the D.J. who was providing music that night and later issued summonses for "playing music at one minute past 3:00 a.m."  Petaccio claimed that he and his bar were ultimately acquitted of the charges.

In an earlier incident, Petaccio complained that Osler, based on an alleged phone call from parents worried that their under aged daughter might be in the bar, entered and started checking identification of both male and female patrons.  He also complained that Romeo, dressed in full uniform and black gloves, would stand outside the bar with his arms crossed apparently in an attempt to intimidate bar customers.

The case is captioned Petaccio v. Wildwood, Federal Case No. 1:06-cv-03587 and Petaccio's attorney was Robert D. Herman of Linwood.  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 Petaccio's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $75,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Wildwood or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Wildwood or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Petaccio $75,000 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.