Monday, June 16, 2014

Jackson pays $25,000 to settle claim that police beat husband and forced wife to use "recommended" bail bondsman

On February 19, 2014, the Township of Jackson (Ocean County), according to a confidential agreement, agreed to pay $25,000 to a local man who sued members of the Jackson Police Department for allegedly beating him and forcing his wife to use a bail bond company allegedly having financial connections to a former Jackson police officer.

In his suit, Salvatore Day said that on December 20, 2009 Jackson police responded to his home because he had been in a verbal altercation with a neighbor.  When police were at his door, he claimed that his wife "attempted to close the door momentarily to get [Day's] dogs away from the
doorway."  At that point, he claimed that officers, including Joseph Candido, Michael Cavallo, James Reynolds and/or Gregory Vidalis pushed the door open and "spun [his] body around, pushed him against wall and threw him to the floor, kneed him in his neck, and yanked his arms behind his back."

Day claimed that at headquarters, the officers refused to let him call his brother to borrow bail money.  When Day's wife came to headquarters, Day claimed that she was given a pen by police that was embossed with "a bail bondsman's name and telephone number" and that police told his wife "to call the bail bondsman quickly to make bail on [Day] or he would be sent to the county jail." 

The wife called the bondsman and, according to the complaint, the bondsman "arrived at [Day's] home and pressured her into signing paperwork retaining them" even though Day's brother had enough money to pay the bail without using a bail bond.  Day said that he believed that "a former Jackson Township police officer either owns or is employed by the bail bonds company used by [his] wife under duress."

Also named in the suit were Jackson Police Chief Matthew D. Kunz, Sergeant John Decker and Detective Scott Conover.

The case is captioned Day v. Jackson, Federal Case No. 3:10-cv-0401 and Day'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 Day'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 Day $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.

Willingboro pays $40,000 to settle police illegal search suit

On October 9, 2013, the Township of Willingboro (Burlington County) agreed to pay $40,000 to a 51-year-old local man who sued members of the Willingboro Police Department for allegedly illegally searching his vehicle and using the fruits of the search to justify arresting him.

In his suit, Paul James Ash, who is African American, said that on April 15, 2008 at about 8:15 p.m. he visited the athletic fields adjacent to the high school to hit some baseballs.  He alleges that he had done this several times before and that there were signs advising that the fields were open to the public until 10 p.m.  He said that Officer Iris Cedeno approached in a marked patrol car and told him he was "trespassing."  Ash claimed that after he "began politely to raise a question," Cedeno ordered him to put down his bat and "get on the curb."  Ash said that he stood on the curb after advising Cedeno that he could not comfortably sit on the curb due to a back condition. 

According to the lawsuit, back up officers Jennifer Knecht and Jaime Jimenez then arrive and "forced [him] to sit on the curb and handcuffed him."  The officers then allegedly searched the vehicle, including the trunk, without warrant or probable cause and arrested him after they "found a firearm in a secure container inside the trunk."  He said that he spent the night in jail after being strip searched.  He claimed that the weapon possession charge against him was resolved by entry into the Pretrial Intervention (PTI) Program "without admission of wrongdoing on his part."

Also named in the suit were Willingboro Public Safety Director Gregory Rucker.

The case is captioned Ash v. Willingboro, Federal Case No. 1:10-cv-01900 and Ash's attorney was Justin T. Loughry of Camden.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Ash's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $40,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Willingboro or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Willingboro or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ash $40,000 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.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Ewing pays $155,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On January 13, 2014, the Township of Ewing (Mercer County) agreed to pay $155,000 to a Trenton woman who sued members of the Ewing Police Department for allegedly beating her.

In her suit, Portia Freeman said that on March 5, 2012 Ewing Township Health Inspector Carol Martin, Animal Control Officer Rick Moore came to her home with police to serve a warrant.  According to the complaint, the officials were there to investigate a complaint that Plaintiff's sister, who the officials believed was a mentally handicapped juvenile, was being left alone in the home without a working heater. 

Freeman claimed that as she was calling her lawyer, Police Officer Jeffrey Caldwell told her "If you don't let us in three minutes we're going to burst the door in."  When she attempted to unlock the door, Freeman claimed that she asked Caldwell, who was holding the screen door open fully, to close it a bit to prevent a dog inside of the house from running out when the interior door was opened.  She claimed that Caldwell refused and dragged her down the three cement steps to the yard. 

She claimed that she "could feel her head and face hit each one until [her] head hit the pavement of the walkway."  She claimed that she was then kicked and punched, sprayed with mace and thrown into the back of a patrol car.  She said she spent five days in the Mercer County Workhouse, the last four days in the infirmary.

Also named in the suit were Officers Christopher Boller, Jeffrey Galant, Sergeant Karl Bartowski, Officers Morris and Tettemer and Mayor Jack Ball.

The case is captioned Freeman v. Ewing, Federal Case No. 3:12-cv-01366 and Freeman's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Freeman's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $155,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Ewing or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Ewing or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Freeman $155,000 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.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Hillsdale pays $42,500 to settle Construction Official's whistleblower and gender discrimination suit

In April 2014, the Borough of Hillsdale (Bergen County) agreed to pay $42,500 to its Construction and Building Subcode Official who sued the Borough and Borough Administrator Jonathan DeJoseph for discriminating against her because of her gender and for having reported the Borough's violations of State rules concerning proper use of construction permit fees.

In her suit, Michelle E. Wood said that in 2002 she and the Borough, due to budgetary issues, to cut her salary by $24,000, with a corresponding reduction in hours, provided that the Borough continue to provide her with a full time vehicle and health benefits.  Wood claimed that the Borough was aware that she would be working part time in Saddle River to make up for the $24,000 salary reduction and would be using her Borough car for her Saddle River work.

Some years later, Wood claimed to have raised issues of Construction Code violations at the Pascack Valley High School as well as "improper use of Uniform Construction Code (UCC) fees for payment of salaries of" Zoning, Property Maintenance and Fire Prevention employees.  According to Wood, "the use of UCC funds is strictly limited to the Construction Department in accordance with N.J.A.C. 5:23-4.17 of the New Jersey Uniform Construction Code." 

In 2011, Wood alleged that she reported that Mayor Max Arnowitz violated the International Residential Code at his home.  Specifically, Wood claimed that Mayor Arnowitz had failed to install the required guard/handrail when he had replaced his from entry steps.  She also reported that DeJoseph had violated the UCC by directing DPW officials to do work at Borough Hall without the proper permits.

These actions, Wood contented, caused the Borough to retaliate against her.  Specifically, she claimed that Arnowitz and DeJoseph, at an April 27, 2012 meeting, decided to strip her of her healthcare benefits and Borough vehicle.  During an August 2, 2012 meeting with DeJoseph and Borough Clerk Susan Witkowski, Wood claimed that she was told that "if she failed to leave the car at the office that day, she was being insubordinate."  She claimed that she ultimately received a letter charging her with insubordination.

The case is captioned Wood v. Borough of Hillsdale, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. BER-L-9234-12 and Wood's attorney was Joseph J. Bell of Rockaway.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Wood's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $42,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Hillsdale or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Hillsdale or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Wood $42,500 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.

Atlantic City pays $50,000 to settle police improper search lawsuit

On January 28, 2014, the City of Atlantic City (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $50,000 to a local man who sued members of the Atlantic City Police Department for allegedly stopping and detaining him without probable cause.

In his suit, Jonathan Preston said that on June 16, 2011, he was driving a car in which three other African American men were passengers when he was pulled over by Atlantic City Police Officer Michele Zanes, who is Caucasian.  He claims Zanes told all four men to drop what [they] were doing and put [their] hands up" when she approached the car and accused Preston of "getting smart with her" and threatened to take him to jail.

Zanes then allegedly asked Preston for his social security number.  Instead of speaking it in front of the others, Preston opted to write it down on a piece of paper and give it to Zanes.  According to Preston's lawsuit, "at this point, approximately 12 back-up officers in cars and on motorcycles had arrived at the scene of the stop."

Zanes then allegedly accused Preston of giving her the wrong social security number and asked him to leave his vehicle with his hands up.  Zanes then patted Preston down and handcuffed him, allegedly "for her protection, and that of the other officers." 

According to the complaint, Howard Mason, another officer who knew Preston's mother, said that Preston did not belong in handcuffs and released him. 

When Preston asked Zanes why he had pulled him over, she allegedly "laughed and responded that he had a dim tail light."  Yet, he claimed that he was never issued a summons or warning during his ninety-minute detention.

Preston alleged that he filed an Internal Affairs complaint against Zanes which resulted her her being disciplined.

The case is captioned Preston v. Atlantic City, Federal Case No. 1:13-cv-03695 and Preston's attorney was David J. Azotea of Atlantic City.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Preston's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $50,000 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 Preston $50,000 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.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

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

On May 1, 2014, the City of Plainfield (Union County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a local woman who sued members of the Plainfield Police Department for allegedly assaulting her and using excessive force against her.

In her suit, Shelby Vattelle said that on December 19, 2010, during a motor vehicle stop, Plainfield Police Officer Michael J. Auriccio, "threw [her] to the concrete, smashed [her] face into the pavement" without justification.  She also claimed that Auriccio applied handcuffs too tightly and threw her to the ground again at Plainfield Police Headquarters.  There, she said, another officer "ripped [her] boots from her feet, breaking one of the heels."

The case is captioned Vattelle v. Plainfield, Federal Case No. 2:12-cv-07255 and Vattelle'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 Vattelle'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 Plainfield or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Plainfield or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Vattelle $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.