Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Howell secretly pays $35,000 to settle police excessive force suit.


On October 8, 2015, the Township of Howell (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $35,000 to a local man who sued members of the Howell Police Department for allegedly assaulting him.

In his suit, Robert J. Oefelein said that on June 26, 2012, Corporal Fred Bauer and Patrolman Phillip Thompson arrived at his home to investigate a noise complaint.  Oefelein alleges that the two officers "entered the residence and assaulted [him] with excessive force and without justification."

The case is captioned Oefelein v. Township of Howell et al, Federal Case No. 3:14-cv-03707 and Oefelein'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 Oefelein's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $35,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Howell or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Howell or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Oefelein $35,000 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.