Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Atlantic City pays $160,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On May 15, 2013, the City of Atlantic City (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $160,000 to a local man who alleged that seven members of the Atlantic City Police Department pepper-sprayed and beat him when he tried to explain to them that another man they were assaulting in his kitchen suffered from schizophrenia.

In his suit, Jose A. Garcia-Hernandez claimed that on February 7, 2009, he was asleep in his room when he heard his landlord's son screaming and calling his name.  When he got out of bed and stepped into the kitchen, he said he saw four officers assaulting the landlord's son.  After trying to tell the officers that the son was schizophrenic, the officers allegedly told him to "shut up you f**king Hispanic."  When he told the officers that he was going to take down their names and report them, he claimed that the officer turned on him.  He said that Officers Henry White III, Darrin Lorady, J. Draper, Garry Stowe, Amir Hughes, Douglas Scogno and Jack Verseput pepper-sprayed him, threw him on the floor, stepped on his neck to hold him down and kicked him, stomped on him and punched him in the face.  He claimed that the officers then filed a report that gave a false version of the events.

The case is captioned Garcia-Hernandez v. Atlantic City, Federal Case No. 1:10-cv-02743 and Garcia-Hernandez's attorney was Brian S. Chacker of Philadelphia.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Garcia-Hernandez's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $160,000 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 Garcia-Hernandez $160,000 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.