Tuesday, December 29, 2015

UMDNJ pays $91,500, Newark pays $21,000 to settle police excessive force suit.

On January 20, 2015, the City of Newark (Essex County) and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) agreed to pay a total of $112,500 to a Hillsdale man who claimed that Newark and UMDNJ Police broke his femur during an illegal traffic stop.

In his suit, Marcelle Higgs claimed that on August 12, 2008 he was pulled over by UMDNJ police officers, including F. Ferraino, J. Bell and S. Rodriguez, even though he had violated no law or provided any basis for the traffic stop. He said that the officers "after having the opportunity to observe that plaintiff was a black man, initiated a vehicle stop."  After Newark police officers, including Rafael Reyes and Fabian Caicedo, arrived, Higgs said that the officers attacked him after he was ordered to step out of his car.  He claimed that the officer broke his femur which required him to have  metal rod surgically installed. Higgs said that the officers then fabricated a story to justify what he called an illegal motor vehicle stop.

The case is captioned Higgs v. University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and City of Newark, Essex County Superior Court Docket No. ESX-L-6346-09 and Higgs's attorney was Joshua Denbeaux of Westwood.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement with UMDNJ, but not Newark, contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the agreement 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 Higgs's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $80,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by UMDNJ, Newark or any of their officials. All that is known for sure is that UMDNJ and Newark or their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Higgs $112,500 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.