Friday, June 5, 2015

Bergen County quietly pays $350,000 to settle police sergeant's whistle blower suit

On April 27, 2015, the County of Bergen agreed to pay $350,000 to a County Police sergeant who sued Police Department officials for allegedly retaliating against for exposing alleged illegal activity in the department.  $140,000 of the settlement amount went to the sergeant and $210,000 was to compensate his lawyer.

In his suit, Robert Carney, who previously headed the Police Department's Internal Affairs Unit, said that Police Chief Brian Higgins and Captain Uwe Malakas retaliated against him for complaining about a culture of cronyism that permitted officers to allegedly tamper with and steal evidence, illegally discharge firearms, falsify official reports and abuse sick time policies without fear of being disciplined.

He claimed that he was threatened when someone anonymously taped two live rounds of ammunition to his locker.  Other acts of alleged retaliation include being berated and cursed at, removal of commendation letters from his personnel file, demotion to patrol status and the taking away of his assigned patrol vehicle.

The case is captioned Carney v. Bergen County Police Department, et al, Docket No. BER-L-2753-12 and Carney's attorney was William A. Feldman of Fairfield.  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 Carney's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $350,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bergen or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bergen or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Carney $350,000 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.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Deptford pays $35,000 to settle police false arrest suit.

On March 2, 2015, the Township of Deptford (Gloucester County) agreed to pay $35,000 to a Wenonah man who sued members of the Deptford Police Department for allegedly arresting him for video recording police and for possession of "saltine cracker crumbs."

In his suit, John Cokos said that he was walking to Gloucester County College on November 10, 2011 carrying a video recorder.  He said that Deptford Township Police Officer Matthew Principato made an abrupt U-turn and asked him "what his intentions were with the video camera."  Cokos said that he didn't answer Principato's question and instead asked "whether he was charged with any offense, and, if not, . . . whether he was free to leave."

Principato allegedly ignored Cokos' inquiry and said that "the camera made [Cokos] look very suspicious" and that "there had been burglaries in the area."  Cokos said that he then asked Principato to have his supervisor come to the scene to "have the encounter witnessed."  Detective Edward Kiermeier, at Principato's request, later arrived at the scene.

According to Cokos, a "verbal and physical altercation ensued" after Cokos refused to obey Principato's and Kiermeier's command to turn off the video recorder.  Cokos said that he was "forced against a guardrail" while the officers searched him and his belongings.

He said that the "officers found saltine cracker crumbs in brown wax paper and asked [him] if it was crack cocaine."  Despite Cokos' denial that the crumbs were crack cocaine, the officers allegedly told him that he was under arrest for drug possession, handcuffed him and took him to the Deptford Police Station.

While lodged in a holding cell, Kiermeier allegedly approached Cokos and told him that "the supposed crack cocaine was, in fact, a piece of saltine cracker."  Police did, however, still charge Cokos with obstructing administration of law/governmental function.  Cokos said he was found not guilty of the charge on January 11, 2012.

Also named in the suit was Deptford Police Chief Daniel Murphy.

The case is captioned Cokos v. Deptford, Federal Case No. 1:13-cv-06810 and Cokos's attorney was  Matthew B. Weisberg of Morton, Pennsylvania.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Cokos's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $35,000 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 Cokos $35,000 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, June 2, 2015

Peapack Gladstone secretly pays $51,000 to settle police officer's whistle blower lawsuit.

On May 28, 2015, the Borough of Peapack Gladstone (Somerset County) agreed to pay $51,000 to a formal Special II police officer who sued the Borough's mayor and council, attorney and police chief for retaliating against him for having complained about a fellow officer.

In his suit, Michael DiLullo, who was appointed as Special Police Officer, Class II in 2003 after having retired from the Somerset County Sheriff's Department, claimed that Officer Thomas Scanlon "hacked into" the Police Department's Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) and obtained a text message that DiLullo had sent to another officer.  The contents of DiLullo's text message caused DiLullo to be "suspended without pay from his duties for a period of time."

DiLullo said that his complaints to various Borough officials about Scanlon's allegedly improper use of the CJIS caused Scanlon to suffer no discipline except being "expressly barred from utilizing the CJIS system."   DiLullo claimed that he had, throughout his employment, been "criticized, harassed and demeaned [by Scanlon] as to his appearance and weight" and that this treatment "intensified" after he reported Scanlon's alleged improper use of the CJIS.  DiLullo claimed that his complaints fell on deaf ears, that his contract with the Borough was not renewed in 2011 and he was replaced by another person.

The case is captioned DiLullo v. Peapack Gladstone, Docket No. SOM-L-000018-12 and DiLullo's attorney was Richard M. De Luca of Somerville.  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 DiLullo's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $51,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Peapack Gladstone or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Peapack Gladstone or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay DiLullo $51,000 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, June 1, 2015

Wildwood pays $29,000 to settle police excessive force suit

On May 27, 2015, the City of Wildwood (Cape May County) agreed to pay $29,000 to a Vineland man who sued members of the Wildwood Police Department for applying excessive force.

In his suit, Kenneth Carey said that on August 28, 2010 Wildwood Officer Andrew Grenaro "exercised unlawful and excessive force" upon him at 248 E. Schellenger Avenue.  Carey, whose lawsuit contains no specifics of his interaction with police, also claimed that Grenaro "unlawfully seized" him and discriminated against him "because of his race."

Also named in the suit was Wildwood Police Chief Steven Long who was dismissed from the lawsuit previously.

The case is captioned Carey v. Wildwood, Federal Case No. 1:12-cv-01298 and Carey's attorney was Mark Pfeffer of Atlantic City.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Carey's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $29,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Wildwood or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Wildwood or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Carey $29,000 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.