Thursday, May 21, 2015

Byram quietly pays $10,000 to settle police malicious prosecution suit

On March 11, 2015 the Township of Byram (Sussex County) agreed to pay $10,000 to a Newton man who sued the Byram Police Department for maliciously prosecuting him for drunk driving.

In his suit, Arthur M. Pirone said that on June 25, 2013, he was driving on U.S. Route 206 when in a "trance like mental status proximately caused by undiagnosed sleep apnea disease" he was "invoked in multiple collisions with street signs and a utility pole."  When Byram Officer John D'Onofrio responded to the incident, Pirone alleged that he immediately concluded that he had been drinking and arrested him for drunk driving even though there was no odor of alcohol present.  Pirone claimed he was taken to a hospital where blook was extracted from him when he was unable to consent.  He claimed that he was ultimately found not guilty of the drunk driving charge.

The case is captioned Pirone v. Byram, Federal Case No. 2:14-cv-0493 and Pirone's attorney was Gary Moore of Hackensack.  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 Pirone's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $10,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Byram or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Byram or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pirone $10,000 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.