Monday, November 10, 2014

Atlantic City pays $200,000 to settle police excessive force suit.

On April 30, 2014, the City of Atlantic City (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $200,000 to two local women, who are sisters, who sued members of the Atlantic City Police Department for allegedly beating them and unleashing a police dog on one of them.

In their suit, Shaheedah Woodall and Khadijah Woodall said that they were at Bally's Hotel and Casino on August 8, 2010 when a fight erupted on the casino floor.  Shaheedah, who is partially disabled and uses a cane, was knocked to the ground during the fight and lost her cane.  According to the suit, Bally's security officers made everyone leave the casino and wait outside.  After the police had arrived and everything calmed down, Khadijah said that she asked the police officers for permission to re-enter the casino to retrieve Shaheedah's cane.  After having been denied re-entry by several officers, the sisters claimed that Officer Natane Naylor wrapped her hands around Khadijah's neck and pushed her to the ground.  The complaint alleged that Naylor, along with Officers Syed Shah, Grace Cook and Joseph Procopio then "unleashed a savage attack on Khadijah, which included numerous punches to the head and face, kicks to the ribs and midsection." Officer James Hurley then allegedly grabbed Shaheedah from behind and called her a "crippled n****r whore." Shaheedah claims that a police dog, handled by Officer Garry Stowe, then ripped into her and disfigured her left breast.  Shaheedah claims that she was so scared that she lost control of her bowel functions.

The sisters claimed that they were both charged with and indicted for resisting arrest and other offenses, but that those charges were later dismissed against Shaheedah but were still pending against Khadijah when the lawsuit was filed.

Also named in the suit were Atlantic City Police Sergeant William Bell who allegedly came to the scene but did nothing to intervene.

The case is captioned Woodall v. Atlantic City, Federal Case No. 12-cv-4963 and Woodall's attorney was Stanley O. King of Woodbury. Case documents are on-line here.

None of the Woodall sisters' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $200,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Atlantic City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Atlantic City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the sisters $200,000 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.