Sunday, November 29, 2015

Elizabeth school board secretly pays $80,000 to settle custodian's worker's comp and wrongful termination suit.

On October 21, 2015, the Elizabeth Board of Education (Union County) agreed to pay $80,000 to the estate of a female custodial worker who claimed that she was terminated because she filed a worker's compensation claim.  $30,000 of the amount was attributed her wrongful discharge suit and $50,000 was for the underlying worker's compensation claim.

In her suit, Bernny Montaguth claimed that when she returned to work after having been injured "as a result of work-related incidents on the job and as a result of repetitive occupational activities," she was placed in the "rubber room" and was not allowed to perform her regular duties.  She claimed that the Board fired her on June 10, 2011 "without a statement of reasons or the opportunity to be heard."

The case is captioned Montaguth v. Elizabeth Board of Education, et al, Union County Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-2920-11 and Montaguth's attorney was Matthew T. Rinaldo of Clark.  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 Montaguth'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 Elizabeth or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Elizabeth or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Montaguth $80,000 than take the matters 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.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Belmar pays $15,000 to settle suit by DPW laborer who claimed he was canned for reporting on the job drug use.

On June 3, 2015, the Borough of Belmar (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $15,000 to a Department of Public Works laborer who said he was fired because he had reported on the job alcohol and drug use by other DPW employees.

In his suit, Gregory Vasil, who claimed that Belmar hired him despite his former substance abuse issues, became concerned in July 2013 when he saw other DPW employees working on the McCleary Park boardwalk project "openly using illegal controlled dangerous substances and consuming alcohol on the job."  Since he was in recovery at the time, Vasil claimed to have feared for "his own personal safety and sobriety."

Instead of reporting what he saw to Belmar officials, Vasil said that he called the head of the National Emergency Grant program that provided funding for the McCleary Park boardwalk project.  He said that his report forced Belmar to shut down the project and drug test all the employees.  Vasil claimed that four employees were fired after testing positive for illegal substances.

Vasil claimed that he was fired one day after making his report.  He claimed Borough officials were upset with him reporting the drug and alcohol use because it required the Borough "to spend money to shut down the job and drug test the employees at the project."

The case is captioned Vasil v. Borough of Belmar et al, Monmouth County Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-2642-14 and Vasil's attorney was Mark F. Casazza of Hazlet.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Vasil's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $15,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Belmar or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Belmar or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Vasil $15,000 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.

Pleasantville secretly pays $50,000 to settle police K-9 attack, excessive force lawsuit.

On October 7, 2015, the City of Pleasantville (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $50,000 to a local man who said that a police canine was ordered to attack him and other officers beat him after he was already handcuffed and face down on the ground.

In his suit, Jalal Whitted, who suffers from a pre-existing psychiatric condition, said that police were called to his home on December 6, 2013 because he had a knife in his possession.  After his mother convinced Whitted to drop the knife, he and his mother stumbled and fell to the sidewalk in front of their home.  Whitted said that while he was on the ground, police handcuffed him.

Despite being handcuffed, Whitted claimed that Officer Angel Valentin "released his K-9 animal ordering it to attack" him.  At the same time, he claimed that Officers John Payne, Angelo Maldonado, Mays (presumably Miracle G. Mays), Stocks (presumably Brandon K. Stocks) and Wright (presumably Robert J. Wright) "continued to beat him with batons, clubs, and weapons including a service revolver and/or shotgun."

The case is captioned Whitted v. City of Pleasantville et al, Federal Case No. 13-cv-07316 and Whitted's attorney was David R. Castellani of Northfield.  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 Whitted's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $50,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Pleasantville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Pleasantville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Whitted $50,000 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.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Weehawken pays $747,000 to settle two lawsuits brought by police official.

Richard F. Turner
Weehawken Mayor
On October 30, 2015, the Township of Weehawken (Hudson County) agreed to pay $747,000 to a Township Police lieutenant to settle his two lawsuits, two disciplinary actions and to provide for the lieutenant's retirement.

In his federal suit filed in 2008, Richard DeCosmis claimed that Mayor Richard F. Turner led a campaign of retaliation against him because he publicly criticized Weehawken's alleged misuse of state funds intended for a Park and Ride to develop a parking lot "to benefit a private building developer and political contributor to Mayor Turner and his allies."  DeCosmis claimed that the alleged retaliation was also sparked by his refusal to allow Union City Mayor Brian Stack's campaign signs on his property, because of his support of "another political candidate running against Mayor Turner's political faction," and because DeCosmis filed a 2007 civil rights lawsuit against Turner "because [of] his unlawful interference with the day-to-day interference with the Weehawken Police Department and public corruption."

The alleged retaliation came in the form of Jorge Chemas allegedly "conducting an unannounced and illegal building code inspection" of DeCosmis' home in Weehawken, which was under renovation and Building Inspector Frank Tattoli issuing a stop work order on the renovation after Chemas, who DeCosmis claimed to had not been property licensed to conduct inspections, was arrested for trespassing.  DeCosmis claimed that Chemas filed a citizen complaint against him which was ultimately determined in DeCosmis' favor.

After his acquittal on Chemas' citizen complaint, DeCosmis claimed that Mayor Turner, working through Deputy Chief William McLellan, Director of Public Safety Jeffrey Welz and Business Manager James Machetti, brought baseless disciplinary charges against him.

The case is captioned DeCosmis v. Township of Weehawken et al, Federal Case No. 2:08-cv-05221 and DeCosmis's attorney was Louis A. Zayas of North Bergen.  Case documents are on-line here.  In addition to the federal case, the settlement also resolved a whistleblower lawsuit DeCosmis filed in state court in 2013 against the Township, Richard Turner, Weehawken & You Action Committee and Christopher Douglas (Docket No. HUD-L-2990-13) as well as two disciplinary cases pending before the Office of Administrative Law--Docket No. OAL CSV-10084-12 (demotion from Lieutenant to Sergeant) and Docket No. OAL CSV-10673-14 (15 suspension without pay).

Beyond the $747,000 payment the settlement calls for DeCosmis to retire on November 1, 2017 while being placed on terminal leave effective as of his signing of the settlement agreement as well as certain salary concessions.  In return DeCosmis will accept two letters of reprimand for the disciplinary matters pending in the Office of Administrative Law.

None of DeCosmis's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $747,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Weehawken or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Weehawken or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay DeCosmis $747,000 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.

Elizabeth pays $22,500 to settle medical malpractice suit.

On July 20, 2015, the City of Elizabeth (Union County) agreed to pay $22,500 to settle a local man's vague medical malpractice claims against two emergency medical technicians (EMTs) employed by the City of Elizabeth or its fire department.

In his suit, Justin D. Conklin claimed that on September 1, 2011 he suffered injuries while being treated by several doctors and other medical staff including EMTs Kenroy Sealy and Antonio Rodriguez.  The civil complaint, unfortunately, sets forth no facts indicating the nature of the malpractice alleged.  Besides the two EMTs, ten doctors and nurses as well as Trinitas Regional Medical Center were named in the suit.  The $22,500 settled Conklin's claims againt the City, Sealy and Rodriguez only.  The amounts for which the doctors, nurses and the medical center settled, if any, are not known.

The case is captioned Conklin v. City of Elizabeth et al, Monmouth County Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-4463-11 and Conklin's attorney was Barry M. Packin of Roseland.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Conklin's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $22,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Elizabeth or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Elizabeth or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Conklin $22,500 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.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Winslow pays $2,500 to settle wrongful detention suit.

Robert Stimelski
Winslow Police Chief
On November 2, 2015, the Township of Winslow (Camden County) agreed to pay $2,500 to a local man who sued police for wrongfully detaining him.

In his suit, James E. Tice claimed that on May 7, 2013, Winslow Patrolman Michael Gibson took his cell phone and frisked him without probable cause. When Tice asked Gibson why he was being detained, Gibson allegedly arrested him for disorderly conduct and released him an hour later without charging him.  Tice, who represented himself in the lawsuit, claimed that Gibson violated his Fourth Amendment rights "as there was no probable cause tostop, detain, search or arrest plaintiff for being on a street in a town where he resides."  Tice claimed that he filed an Internal Affairs complaint against Gibson and that his complaint was sustained and resulted in Gibson being discplined.

The case is captioned Tice v. Township of Winslow et al, Federal Case No. 1:13-cv-06894 and Tice represented himself.  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 Tice's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $2,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Winslow or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Winslow or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Tice $2,500 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.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Holmdel secretly pays $80,000 to settle gender discrimination suit.

On July 6, 2015, the Township of Holmdel (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $80,000 to a female applicant who, allegedly because of her gender, was not hired as a police officer.

In her suit, Stephanie Geisel claimed that even though she ranked 2nd on the civil service eligibility list and was otherwise highly qualified, Holmdel offered positions to three men "two of whom were less qualified than [Geisel], they had less formal education, less police experience and scored lower than Geisel on the Civil Service examination."  She claimed that Chief John Mioduszewski simply did not want female police officers to serve on the force.  Geisel appears to have later secured a position with the Middletown Police Department.

The case is captioned Geisel v. Township of Holmdel et al, Monmouth County Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-3138-13 and Geisel's attorney was David F. Corrigan of Keyport.  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 Geisel'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 Holmdel or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Holmdel or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Geisel $80,000 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, November 23, 2015

Tinton Falls Borough pays $527,500 to settle police lieutenant's whistleblower lawsuit.

John A. Scrivanic
Tinton Falls Police Chief
On July 7, 2015, the Borough of Tinton Falls (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $527,500 to a retired police lieutenant who claimed he was disciplined and harassed out of his position for reporting a police sergeant's alleged theft to the county prosecutor.

In his suit, Kevin Pierson said that in or about 2008 he reported Sergeant (now Lieutenant) David Scrivanic to the Monmouth County Prosecutor's office for "knowingly and illegally placing a device on his home water pipes to divert water for his personal use without charge."  Pierson's report allegedly caused the prosecutor to direct "the Tinton Falls Police Department to institute a major disciplinary action against Scrivanic."

But, according to Pierson, instead of disciplining Scrivanic, the Borough disciplined him for reporting Scrivanic's alleged activities to the prosecutor.  Upon learning of Tinton Falls' actions against Pierson, the prosecutor allegedly threatened to take over the Tinton Falls Police Department's Internal Affairs Unit unless the disciplinary charges against Pierson were withdrawn.  After Tinton Falls withdrew the charges, former Chief (now Mayor) Gerald M. Turing, current Chief John A. Scrivanic (David's brother) and David Scrivanic, along with other Borough officials, allegedly "began to engage in repeated retaliatory and harassing conduct directed towards" Pierson.  Among the specific instances of retaliation cited by Pierson are being passed over for overtime, withholding information, denying training opportunities, filing Internal Affairs complaints against him and tampering with his computer. Pierson also claimed that the same officials harassed his brother, Craig Pierson, who is also a police officer.

According to Paragraph 62 of his complaint, on August 19, 2014, Pierson entered into an agreement with the Borough under which he would retire and agreed to accept a written reprimand on one of the Internal Affairs charges brought against him.

The case is captioned Pierson v. Tinton Falls Borough et al, Monmouth County Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-377-13 and Pierson's attorney was Richard P. Flaum of Warren.  The case documents are on-line here.

None of Pierson's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $527,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Tinton Falls or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Tinton Falls or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pierson $527,500 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.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Keyport secretly pays $40,000 to settle hostile work environment suit.


On May 6, 2015, the Borough of Keyport (Monmouth County) agreed to pay a total of $40,000 to three Borough police officers who claimed that they were subjected to a hostile work environment by the Borough Administrator after they had arrested her for assault and other charges in the Borough's parking lot.  Additionally, one of the officers sought damages from the Administrator for the alleged assault.

In their suit, Shannon Hyman Torres, Joseph M. Rendina and Robert L. Aumack claimed that on December 10, 2012, Borough Administrator Lorene Wright hit Torres' unoccupied car in the Borough's parking lot.  Torres claimed that when she approached the scene, Wright "moved towards Torres and bumped, touched, pushed and accosted Torres without the consent or excuse to do so."  Torres, along with Rendina and Aumack who also participated in Wright's arrest, claimed that Wright and other Borough officials created a hostile work environment for them.  Specifically, they claimed that they were threatened with termination and that Wright had "flick[ed] lit cigarettes at" them.

Under the settlement agreement, Torres received $20,000 while Rendina and Aumack each received $10,000.

The case is captioned Torres, Rendina and Aumack v. Borough of Keyport et al, Monmouth County Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-4876-13 and Torres', Rendina's and Aumack's attorney was Timothy D. Lyons of Freehold.  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 Torres', Rendina's and Aumack'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 Keyport or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Keyport or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Torres, Rendina and Aumack $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.



Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Southern Regional Board of Education pays $30,000 to settle age discrimination lawsuit.

On November 11, 2015, the Southern Regional Board of Education (Ocean County) agreed to pay $30,000 to a now 73 year old part time school bus driver who claimed that school district officials discriminated against him because of his age.

In his suit, Thomas E. Pancoast said that his bid for a full-time driver position was rejected even though "he was the most senior applicant from the part time pool without any motor vehicle or other incidents on their record."  He claimed that the full time positions were given to younger drivers with less seniority.  He said that his complaints to the superintendent and business administrator were ignored.

The case is captioned Pancoast v. Southern Regional Board of Education et al, Ocean County Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-1136-14 and Pancoast's attorney was John P. Brennan, Jr. of Avon-by-the-Sea.  The case documents are on-line here.

None of Pancoast's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $30,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Southern Regional or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Southern Regional or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pancoast $30,000 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, November 16, 2015

Pemberton secretly pays $150,000 to settle pregnant police officer's discrimination lawsuit.

On October 28, 2015, the Township of Pemberton (Burlington County) agreed to pay $150,000 to a police officer who claimed that she was discriminated against because of her pregnancy.

In her suit, Shannon Sawyer claimed that after she presented her supervisors with a doctor's note confirming her pregnancy, she was relieved of her patrol duty and put on administrative work.  According to the suit, Township Business Administrator Dennis Gonzalez held that Sawyer's request for modified duty was unacceptable and that she would have to either work her normal patrol shift or take sick or vacation time.  Sawyer said that she opted to work in her full capacity as a patrol officer but Gonzalez changed his mind forced her to "take sick leave until further notice."

Through her union, Sawyer filed a grievance that resulted in a "Step Three" grievance hearing before the Township Council.  Despite the Township Council voting 5-0 to return Sawyer to her position as a police officer where she could work on administrative tasks and to reimburse her for her sick time, Gonzalez refused to abide by the Council's decision.  According to Sawyer, her family leave and sick time would have run out about six weeks prior to her baby's expected delivery date.

As part of the settlement, the Township agreed to credit Sawyer for 77 sick days and 13 vacation days.  The agreement also specifically reserves he rights under another lawsuit captioned Stewart, et al. v. Pemberton Township. et al., Federal Action No. 14-6810.

The case is captioned Sawyer v. Township of Pemberton et al, Burlington County Superior Court Docket No. BUR-L-743-15 and Sawyer's attorney was Jeffery D. Catrambone of Clifton.  Case documents are on-line here and 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 Sawyers' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $150,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Pemberton or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Pemberton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Sawyer $150,000 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.

Manville paid $38,500 to secretly settle heavy equipment operator's discrimination and hostile work environment lawsuit.

On August 21, 2015, the Borough of Manville (Somerset County) agreed to pay $38,500 to a 38-year Department of Public Works employee who claimed that the Borough made him jump through hoops in order to return to work after a shoulder injury.

In his suit, Edwin Zygiel claimed that after recovering from a May 11, 2011 shoulder injury his ability to return to work was allegedly thwarted by Manville's preparation of a "new job task list."  Manville allegedly sent the new task list to Zygiel's physician, without Zygiel's knowledge, and asked the physician to reconsider his decision to let Zygiel return to work with full clearance.  Zygiel said that he first learned of the new list and the Borough's communication with his doctor during a May 10, 2012 meeting with Borough officials Gary Garwacke and Philip Petrone.  Zygiel claimed that Manville required him to get clearances from three different doctors when other employees needed clearance from only one.

The case is captioned Zygiel v. Borough of Manville et al, Somerset County Superior Court Docket No. SOM-L-478-14 and Zygiel's attorney was William J. Courtney of Flemington.  The 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 Zygiel's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $38,500 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Manville or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Manville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Zygiel $38,500 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.

Union Township to pay $125,000 to secretly settle police false arrest and excessive force lawsuit.

On November 16, 2015, the Township of Union (Union County) provided me with a draft of settlement agreement memorializing its intention to pay $125,000 to a local man who claimed that Union Township police entered his home without a warrant or probable cause and applied excessive force while falsely arresting him.

In his suit, Michael Pagliaroli claimed that he was arrested with unreasonable force on May 17, 2013 by Township Police Sergeant Barry Cohen, Officer Jason Brooks and Officers Ford and Penetra (presumably Timothy J. Ford and Marco J. Penetra).  The lawsuit contains no details regarding the nature or circumstance of the arrest or alleged excessive force.

The case is captioned Pagliaroli v. Township of Union et al, Union County Superior Court Docket No. UNN-L-3475-13 and Pagliaroli's attorney was Joel I. Rachmiel of Springfield.  The 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 Pagliaroli's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $125,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Union or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Union or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pagliaroli $125,000 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.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Lawnside pays $120,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On October 16, 2015, the Borough of Lawnside (Camden County) agreed to pay $120,000 to a woman who claimed that a Lawnside police officer slammed her several times against her car.

In her suit, Tiffany Gilmore claimed that on September 29, 2010 she was driving home from the grocery store with her two children when Lawnside Police Officer Carmen Colon jumped in front of her car and screamed for her to pull over. She said that since she was in a "known drug area" and didn't recognize Colon as a police officer and ordered her daughter to call 911 while she drove to the Lawnside police station.  Colon had followed her to the police station and, according to the complaint, grabbed Gilmore after she exited her car and "slammed her five times into her vehicle and then handcuffed her."  When Gilmore complained about how tightly the Colon had applied the handcuffs, Colon allegedly grabbed the cuffs and pulled on them to direct Gilmore into the police station.

Colon issued Gilmore six traffic tickets and charged her with a disorderly persons offense and resisting arrest.  Gilmore claimed that all the charges were dismissed or terminated in her favor.

In her complaint, Gilmore noted that Colon had been fired from the Camden Police Department but that Lawnside hired her anyway.  Attached to the complaint was a May 22, 2007 letter from Camden Police Lieutenant John A. Sosinavage to the Camden County Prosecutor's Office in which he wanted to make clear that Camden did not give Colon a good or even neutral job reference and wanted to "limit any future liability against the City of Camden based on Lawnside's negligent hiring and retention of Colon."

Colon's conduct was the basis of a $740,000 settlement in early 2015.  According to a newspaper article that covered the settlement, Colon "resigned from Lawnside's police department in 2013 in exchange for dismissal of charges alleging she filed a false report and tampered with public records." Colon herself received a $150,000 settlement from Lawnside as part of her agreement to resign.

The case is captioned Gilmore v. Borough of Lawnside et al, Federal Case No. 1:12-cv-05917 and Gilmore's attorney was Thomas Bruno of Philadelphia.  The case documents are on-line here.

None of Gilmore's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $120,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lawnside or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lawnside or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Gilmore $120,000 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.

Elizabeth pays $145,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit



On October 27, 2015, the City of Elizabeth (Union County) agreed to pay $145,000 to a Newark woman who claimed that an Elizabeth police officer slammed her face into a car window.

In her suit, Jazmine Fortenberry said that on October 8, 2010 she was standing outside of local restaurant when Officer Will Torres ran up behind her and grabbed her and "swung her around with such force that it caused her to crash through a door window of a motor vehicle."  She claimed that the injuries caused "three sets of sutures to her face."

She said that Torres taunted her by saying "that's what, happens when you want to be a man, want to be a gangster" and told her to "put some coco butter on your face and it will go away."   She also claimed that Torres broke her cell phone into pieces and threw it in the water.

The case is captioned Fortenberry v. City of Elizabeth et al, Federal Case No. 2:13-cv-01640 and Fortenberry's attorney was Raymond L. Hamlin of Newark.  The case documents are on-line here.

None of Fortenberry's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. All that is known for sure is that Elizabeth or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Fortenberry $145,000 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.

Fairview pays $7,000 to settle police false arrest lawsuit.

In November 2015, the Borough of Fairview (Bergen County) agreed to pay $7,000 to a Franklin Lakes college student who claimed that Fairview police falsely arrested him and conspired to violate his rights.

In his suit, Manuel Alvarez claimed that on December 8, 2013 the car he was driving was stopped by Fairview Police Detective Joseph Bucco and other officers who accused him, without any factual basis, of possessing illegal drugs.  Alvarez claimed that police told him that if he didn't consent to a search of the trunk of his car, they would "tear up his vehicle and charge him with driving under the influence of alcohol."  Alvarez maintained that he had nothing to drink and did not have any drugs in the car.

When he asked why he was being detained, the police allegedly accused him of being intoxicated and ordered him to do field sobriety tests.  However, when he began to perform the tests, the police allegedly "jeered and made fun of him" and then handcuffed him roughly.  Alvarez, who described himself as a "large muscular individual" claimed that because of his size, police should have used two sets of handcuffs.  He claimed that when he was placed in the police car "he could not feel his hands due to circulation being constricted" by the handcuffs.  When he asked police for help with the cuffs, they allegedly ridiculed him.  He said that the pain was so great that he consented to a search of his trunk in order to get them to loosen the handcuffs.

According to the lawsuit, no drugs were found in the car.  Yet, Alvarez claimed that he was taken to the police station and called a "dumb spic," "faggot" and "pussy" by the officers.  After blowing a 0% on the breathalyzer, Rivera claimed that the police then had a Drug Influence Evaluator test him and that the evaluator determined that he under the influence of marijuana.  This caused him to be charged with drug offenses as well as driving under the influence.  Alvarez claimed that all the charges, except for a driving without a seatbelt ticket, were ultimately dismissed.

The case is captioned Alvarez v. Borough of Fairview et al, Federal Case No. 2:15-cv01851 and Alvarez's attorney was Karam Nahas of Raritan.  The case documents are on-line here.

None of Alvarez's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $7,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Fairview or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Fairview or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Alvarez $7,000 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.