Thursday, August 14, 2014

Jackson pays $25,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On July 2, 2013, the Township of Jackson (Ocean County) agreed to pay $25,000 to two brick men ($12,500 each) who sued members of the Jackson Police Department for allegedly beating them.

In their suit, Michael Acquaviva and Shane Panuska said that on March 2, 2011, Panuska was assaulted and asked Jackson Police Sergeant Donald Clark and officers Sean Greenberger and John Rodriguez why they were not pursuing his assailant.  Clark allegedly verbally abused him and then, along with Greenberger and Rodriguez, threw him on the ground, kicked him, handcuffed him and sprayed him with OC spray. 

Acquaviva, who was watching the incident, allegedly asked police if the amount of force being applied to Panuska "was necessary."  Acquaviva claimed that Officers Jeremy Felder, James Reynolds and Detective Michael Kelly then assaulted and arrested him with Felder punching him in the face.

Also named in the suit were Jackson Police Chief Matthew D. Kunz.

The case is captioned Acquaviva and Panuska v. Jackson, Federal Case No. 3:12-cv-05992 and Acquaviva'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 Acquaviva's or Panuska's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Jackson or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Jackson or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Acquaviva and Panuska $25,000 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.