Friday, October 3, 2014

Seaside Heights secretly pays $20,000 to settle police excessive force suit.

On July 10, 2014, the Borough of Seaside Heights (Ocean County) agreed to pay $20,000 to a Sussex County man who sued members of the Seaside Heights Police Department for applying excessive force.

In his suit, Josiah Dominski said that on July 1, 2012, he was standing outside the Bamboo Bar just after closing time trying to call a friend with whom he lost contact while inside the bar.  He said that Officers Zachary Rhein and Justin Heffernan told him to leave.  Dominski alleged that when he tried to explain that he was calling his friend, the two officers assaulted him without justification and applied excessive force upon him.

Also named in the suit were Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd, Stephen Korman and James Hans.

The case is captioned Dominski v. Seaside Heights, Federal Case No. 13-cv-4967 and Dominski'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 Dominski's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $20,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Seaside Heights or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Seaside Heights or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Dominski $20,000 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.