Monday, October 26, 2015

Bridgeton secretly pays $500,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On April 4, 2015, the City of Bridgeton (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $500,000 to a local couple who claimed that city police had used excessive force against the husband.

In the suit, Phillip A. DuBose claimed that on February 20, 2013 he was approached by police after he engaged in the "trivial conduct" of double-parking his truck on York Street and using his horn.  He claimed that when he tried to park legally, a police cruiser pulled up directly behind him blocking him from backing into the parking place.  After he parked in another parking spot he was given tickets for double-parking and "excessive use of horn."

DuBose admitted that he "momentarily lost him temper" when he realized how much the tickets would cost him.  In anger, he struck the steering wheel which caused "inadvertent contact" with the horn.

The officers ordered him out of his truck and, according to the complaint, attacked him and "used excessive force by punching and kicking [him], pulling his arms behind his shoulders; spraying him with mace, and forcing him, face down, onto the pavement."  After he was beaten, he claimed that one of the officers said "Look at your face now, wise guy."  He claimed that another officer turned off his body microphone before the assault so that it would not be recorded.  Further, he claimed that officers "took photos of Mr. DuBose for their own amusement."

He was taken to emergency room of the Bridgeton Health Center and then to Cooper Hospital in Camden. He claims that he was diagnosed with a "closed Head Injury; Orbital Fracture; Traumatic Iritis; Abrasion of Multiple Sites."  Separately, three Bridgeton Police Detectives were injured when they were involved in a car accident when responding to the scene.

DuBose's wife, Cheryl Dubose, who is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said that Bridgeton officers taunted her when she went to the station to bail out her husband.  She said that Lieutenant J. Branch (presumably Jere A. Branch) said "Wanna see your husband, Missy?" and then held up a photo of her husband's bleeding face taken by the officers at the time of the arrest.

DuBose said that he was charged with disorderly conduct, aggravated assault of a police officer, resisting arrest, and obstructing law enforcement but that all of the charges were withdrawn by the County Prosecutor.

The officers named in the lawsuit are Richard Zanni, Angel Santiago, Joseph Camp, Nicholas Caprio, Joshua Soper and Miguel Martinez.  Also named are Chief Mark W. Ott and Lieutenant J. Branch.

The case is captioned DuBose v. City of Bridgeton et al, Federal Case No. 1:14-cv-0220 and Dubose's attorney was Richard H. Maurer of Philadelphia.  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 the DuBoses' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $500,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bridgeton or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bridgeton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the DuBoses $500,000 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.