Monday, December 14, 2015

Wayne secretly pays $25,000 to settle false arrest suit.

Christopher P. Vergano
Mayor of Wayne
On November 23, 2015, the Township of Wayne (Passaic County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a former Wayne Hills High School football player who alleged that he was falsely arrested for an assault that occurred after he had left the Halloween party at which the assault occurred.

In his suit, Troy Zaffino claimed that he arrived at an October 29, 2011 Halloween party at 8 p.m. and left at 9:45 p.m.  According to media reports, he and eight other Wayne Hills players were later charged with aggravated assault after an attack on two teens left one of them unconscious.  Zaffino and the others were suspended from playing in a state championship game in December where Wayne Hills defeated Old Tappan.

While seven of the other players received probation and one entered pre-trial intervention, charges against Zaffino were dropped, allegedly because prosecutors had no proof that he was at the party at the time of the assault.

Oddly, the lawsuit also alleged that Wayne Mayor Christopher P. Vergano "commanded that [Zaffino's] arrest be carried out after Election Day so as to avoid political fallout from any potential media coverage and to assure that the candidates his political party supported would not lose political support from voters." The candidates that Vergano allegedly sought to protect included Robert Ceberio, who was mounting what was to be an unsuccessful bid for Passaic County Freeholder, and Franco Mazzei, who was running for and ultimately elected to a Wayne Council seat.

The case is captioned Zaffino v. Township of Wayne et al, Federal Case No. 12-cv-05411 and Zaffino's attorney was David P. Kreizer, of New York.  Case documents are on-line here. Other than the Township, Mayor Vergano, Councilman Mazzei and Freeholder candidate Ceberio, Police Chief John Rearon, Captain James Clark, Detective Jerowitz, Wayne School Superintendent Michael Roth, Board of Education President Donald Pavlak and Board members Kim Essen, Jane Hutchison, Robyn Kingston, Allan Mordkoff and Laura Stinziano were named as defendants.

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 Zaffino's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $25,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Wayne or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Wayne or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Zaffino $25,000 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.