Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Winslow pays $2,500 to settle wrongful detention suit.

Robert Stimelski
Winslow Police Chief
On November 2, 2015, the Township of Winslow (Camden County) agreed to pay $2,500 to a local man who sued police for wrongfully detaining him.

In his suit, James E. Tice claimed that on May 7, 2013, Winslow Patrolman Michael Gibson took his cell phone and frisked him without probable cause. When Tice asked Gibson why he was being detained, Gibson allegedly arrested him for disorderly conduct and released him an hour later without charging him.  Tice, who represented himself in the lawsuit, claimed that Gibson violated his Fourth Amendment rights "as there was no probable cause tostop, detain, search or arrest plaintiff for being on a street in a town where he resides."  Tice claimed that he filed an Internal Affairs complaint against Gibson and that his complaint was sustained and resulted in Gibson being discplined.

The case is captioned Tice v. Township of Winslow et al, Federal Case No. 1:13-cv-06894 and Tice represented himself.  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 Tice's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $2,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Winslow or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Winslow or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Tice $2,500 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.