Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Paulsboro pays $60,000 to secretly settle police excessive force suit

On August 19, 2014, the Borough of Paulsboro (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $60,000 to three brothers who sued members of the Paulsboro Police Department for allegedly beating and applying excessive force against them. Under the agreement, each brother is to receive $10,000 and their lawyer is to receive $10,000.

In their suit, Artavius, Eltereake and Shavon Mears said that on May 5, 2011, Eltereake was walking his baby in a stroller when Paulsboro Police Officers Vernon Marino and Gary Kille "jumped out of a police car in pursuit of another person."  While doing so, the officers allegedly falsely accused Eltereake of blocking their path.  They allegedly took him to the police station, beat him and refused to provide him with medical treatment.

After hearing that their brother was being held by police, Artavius and Shavon went to the station where they were confronted by Kille, Marino and Chief Francis Grogan who allegedly refused to give them any information concerning Eltereake and directed "denigrating racial remarks" toward them. After Artavius and Shavon left the station, Grogan allegedly instructed Kille and Marino "to arrest or in some fashion detain and assault" them.  This reportedly caused Artavius and Shavon to be "beaten" by Kille and Marino.  The brothers also accuse police of tampering with a video that captured the alleged beating of Artavius and Shavon.

The case is captioned the Mears v. Paulsboro, Federal Case No. 1:13-cv-02894 and the Mears brothers' attorney was William H. Buckman of Moorestown.  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 the Mears brothers's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $60,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Paulsboro or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Paulsboro or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Mears brothers $60,000 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.