Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Mantua pays $75,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On February 9, 2015, the Township of Mantua (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $75,000 to the estate of local man who alleged that members of the Mantua Police Department fractured his spine by knocking him down and then kicking him while he was laying on the ground.  (According to a South Jersey Times obituary the man died on May 27, 2013 at age 66.  Nothing suggests that the man's death was caused by his interaction with Mantua police.)

In his suit, the estate of Lindley Gallagher claimed that on January 19, 2012, Mantua Patrolman A. Hayes (presumably Arthur D. Hayes) knocked on the door of Gallagher's residence.  When Gallagher opened the door a "verbal dispute" allegedly occurred between him and Officer Hayes during which Hayes "became frustrated with [Gallagher], grabbed him and threw him to the ground."  While Gallagher was on the ground and being attended to by a neighbor, unnamed officer allegedly kicked him.  Gallagher claimed that the officers' actions caused him to suffer a "fractured cervical spine requiring spinal fusion surgery" that requiring him to spend months in a rehabilitation center.

Gallagher's complaint alleges that he filed an Internal Affairs complaint but that Mantua Police had not responded as of the date of the complaint.

Also named in the suit were Mantua Police Chief Rodney J. Sawyer.

The case is captioned Gallagher v. Mantua, Federal Case No. 1:13-cv-01147 and Gallagher's attorney was Randy P. Catalano of Audubon.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Gallagher's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $75,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Mantua or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Mantua or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Gallagher $75,000 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.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Nutley secretly pays $40,000 to settle police officer's suit against Township and Mayor.

Alphonse Petracco
Mayor of Nutley
On October 14, 2014, the Township of Nutley (Essex County) agreed to pay $40,000 to a retired Township police officer who said that Township officials, particularly Mayor Alphonse Petracco, harassed and retaliated against him and ultimately left him with "no reasonable choice but to retire" in February 2013.

In his suit, Michael Patrick O'Halloran claimed that Petracco lived "above the law" by, for example, a) using the Nutley Fire Department's generators "to power his personal deli business during an extended power outage, when other facilities in town went without power;" b) signing and handing out PBA cards to his cronies; c) parking on the sidewalk in front of his deli and d) using police vehicles for personal use, such as for hunting trips to Mendham and to go to out-of-town parties.  O'Halloran also claimed that Commissioner Thomas J. Evans tried to force him to amend an accident report involving Evans' son.   O'Halloran claimed that when he objected to Petracco's conduct and reported him to the Essex County Prosecutor's office, Petracco retaliated by, for instance, interfering with his overtime pay and by taking adverse action against O'Halloran's mother, who was also a Township employee.

The case is captioned O'Halloran v. Nutley, Essex County Superior Court, Docket No. ESX-L-5246-13 and O'Halloran's attorney was Patrick P. Toscano of Caldwell.  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 O'Halloran's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $40,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Nutley or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Nutley or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay O'Halloran $40,000 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.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Former Somerset Fire District chairman quietly settles defamation suit.

On June 26, 2014, Michael Gilliam, the former chairman of Franklin Township (Somerset County) Fire District No. 3 Board of Commissioners secretly settled his defamation lawsuit against several fire officials.

The agreement, under which Gilliam received $240,000, settled his claims against East Franklin Volunteer Fire Department Chief Daniel Krushinski and President Christopher Fischer, Community Volunteer Fire Department Chief Richard Ries and Board Chairman Herman Calvo and Fire Commissioner Douglas Krushinski.  Also named in but previously dismissed from Gilliam's lawsuit were the East Franklin and Community Departments and Fire District No. 3.

Gilliam's lawsuit, filed on March 30, 2011, claimed that fire officials made written and verbal statements that falsely portrayed him as someone who engages in unlawful sexual acts with minors.  According to Gilliam, these defamatory statements were made in retaliation for him, as a Fire Commissioner, subjecting the two fire departments to increased financial oversight.

The settlement agreement is on-line here and more information regarding Gilliam's lawsuit is on-line here.

Unfortunately, the Fire District's insurer, the American Alternative Insurance Corporation, refused to release the settlement agreement in response to my Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request made in 2014.  This refusal required me and attorney Walter M. Luers of Clinton to file a lawsuit to force disclosure of the settlement agreementhere.
.  More information on that suit is on-line

Friday, March 6, 2015

Deptford school board quietly pays $190,000 to settle gay teacher's harassment and discrimination suit.

On March 3, 2013, the Deptford Township Board of Education (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $190,000 to a homosexual male Deptford High School Spanish teacher who claimed to have been "subjected to continuous and egregious harassment based upon his sexual orientation and/or perceptions held regarding his sexual orientation by students at the high school."

In his suit, Marc A. Lopez said that students would repeatedly call him a "fag," "faggot" or "fruity." He also said that they would sing "It's raining men" to him.  Lopez claimed that school officials did not take action to abate the harassment which caused Lopez to request a transfer in January 2011.  Instead, he said he was "laid off" in April 2011. He charged that the school failed in its obligation to provide him "with a working environment free of unlawful discrimination, retaliation and harassment."

The case is captioned Lopez v. Deptford Board of Education, Docket No. GLO-L-2175-11 and Lopez's attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel.  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 Lopez's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $190,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Deptford or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Deptford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lopez $190,000 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 trut
h of what really happened.