Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Union City pays $50,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit

On December 7, 2013, the City of Union City (Hudson County) agreed to pay $50,000 to two local women who sued members of the Union City Police Department for falsely arresting and maliciously prosecuting them.

In their complaint, Carlene Peguero and her mother Ingrid DeCastro claimed that Union City Police Sergeant Mark Julve, accompanied by Detectives Jasen Bellamy, R. Cetinich (presumably Raymond Cetinich) and Ruben Rodriguez came to their home on August 12, 2011 to execute a search warrant against Jean Peguero (who was Carlene's brother and Ingrid's son). The officers allegedly arrested Jean after finding marijuana and a marijuana grinder in his room. 

Even though the officers found no other contraband in the home, they allegedly arrested Carlene and Ingrid.  The women claim that the male officers frisked and searched them even though they had requested a female officer.

The pair claimed that they were handcuffed and taken to the police station.  They said that police threatened to charge them with drug offenses unless Jean admitted to possessing the contraband.  They claim that they were both charged, but that the charges were later dropped after Jean admitted to the drug offenses.

The case is captioned Peguero and DeCastro v. Union City, Federal Case No. 2:12-cv-06045 and Peguero'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 Peguero's or DeCastros'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 Union City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Union City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Peguero and DeCastro $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.