Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Belvidere pays $45,000 to settle police false arrest/excessive force suit.

On September 11, 2014, the Town of Belvidere (Warren County) agreed to pay $45,000 to a local woman who sued members of the Belvidere Police Department for allegedly assaulting and falsely arresting her.

In her suit, Lisa Patton said that on February 10, 2011, her daughter called police after the mother and daughter had an argument over proper dosage of the daughter's prescription medicine.  According to the complaint, Patton's daughter had substance abuse issues and wanted to ingest more of the medicine than prescribed and Patton wished to limit her daughter's medication intake to the prescribed dose.  Belvidere police officers Matthew Scott and Frank Tootle, III went to the family home and both Patton and her son told them that the daughter had already had her prescribed dose that day.

According to the complaint, both officers then left the residence and "attempted to find a criminal violation with which to charge" Patton. They returned a short time later and, allegedly without a search or arrest warrant, entered Patton's home and ordered Patton to give her daughter the medication.  After the daughter reached into Patton's pocket and removed the medication, the daughter was allegedly asked by the police to leave the residence.  Thereafter, Patton alleged that she "tapped [Tootle] on the shoulder."  Scott allegedly grabbed her by the wrists and Tootle elbowed her in the hip and face.  She was then arrested for assaulting a police officer, dragged from her home in her bathrobe and handcuffed to a wall at the Warren County Jail.

The case is captioned Patton v. Belvidere, Docket No. WAR-L-521-11 and Patton's attorney was Robert C. Woodruff of Morristown.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Patton's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $45,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Belvidere or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Belvidere or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Patton $45,000 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.