Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Hanover secretly pays $100,000 to settle woman's strip search suit.

On November 5, 2015, the Township of Hanover (Morris County) agreed to pay $100,000 to a Randolph woman who claimed that she was strip searched after having been arrested on a warrant for not paying a speeding ticket.

In her suit, Stephanie E. Drouillard claimed that Hanover Police Sergeant Ryan Williams arrested her on August 23, 2014 on an outstanding warrant due to Drouillard's failure to pay a speeding ticket.  According to the complaint, an unidentified female officer then arrived and told Drouillard "I'm here to baby sit you. I'm here to make sure your rights are protected and his rights are protected."  About a half hour later, Drouillard claimed that Williams told her "We haven't searched her yet. We should probably do that. We haven't done it yet."  Thereafter, Drouillard was allegedly taken into a jail cell and "ordered to take off her shirt and pants and strip searched with the door of the holding cell remaining open."

The case is captioned Drouillard v. Township of Hanover et al, Federal Case No. 2:14-cv-06650 and Drouillard'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 Drouillard's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the `$100,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Hanover or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Hanover or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Drouillard $100,000 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.