Monday, December 7, 2015

Jersey City pays $20,000 to settle improper, warrantless search lawsuit.

Philip D. Zacche
Jersey City Police Chief
On November 10, 2015, the City of Jersey City (Hudson County) agreed to pay $20,000 to a man who, according to a state judge's written opinion, was subjected to an illegal search of his apartment by Jersey City Police.

In his suit, Keith Pantaleon claimed that on January 24, 2013, Jersey City Police Officers Sean Francis Licata and E. Abdelaziz (presumably Ehab R. Abdelaziz) responded to his apartment building in response to another tenant's 911 call complaining of no heat. Pantaleon alleged that the officers entered his apartment without warrant or probable cause, discovered a gun and brought firearms possession charges against him. Pantaleon backed up his claim by attaching to his lawsuit a January 15, 2014 written opinion by Hudson County Superior Court Judge John A. Young, Jr. suppressing the gun as having been the fruits of an illegal search.  Pantaleon claimed that he was jailed for 35 days with an HIV positive inmate and that the imprisonment caused him to lose his job with a Fortune 500 firm.

The case is captioned Pantaleon v. City of Jersey City et al, Federal Case No. 2:15-cv-0045 and Pantaleon's attorney was David H. Huang of Eatontown.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Pantaleon's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement resolution expressly states that the $20,000 payment does not admit wrongdoing by Jersey City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Jersey City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pantaleon $20,000 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.