Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Lakewood pays $40,000 to settle excessive force suit against cop who was later arrested

On September 18, 2013, the Township of Lakewood (Ocean County) entered into a confidential agreement to pay $40,000 to a local man who sued members of the Lakewood Police Department for assaulting him and applying excessive force against him.

In his suit, Edwin A. Alicea said that on January 15, 2012, he was stopped by former Lakewood Police Officer Jeremy Felder who "assaulted him without justification and with excessive force."  He claimed that Felder forcibly removed him from his car, threw him to the ground, assaulted him and sprayed his face with pepper spray "without justification."  According to a March 5, 2014 Star Ledger article (here), Felder was arrested in March 2014 for official misconduct arising out of a separate incident.

A You Tube video of the incident is on-line here.  Unfortunately, most of the interaction between Felder and Alicea is off-camera.  The Police report, criminal complaint against Alicea and Alicea's blood alcohol report are on-line here.

The case is captioned Alicea v. Lakewood, Federal Case No. 33:12-cv-06404 and Alicea'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 Alicea's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $40,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lakewood or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lakewood or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Alicea $40,000 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.