Tuesday, December 29, 2015

State, Camden County Prosecutor poised to pay $180,000 to settle police wrongful death claim.

A November 18, 2015 "friendly hearing" before United State District Court Judge Jerome B. Simandle determined that a lawsuit filed by the estate of a Camden man who died in 2009 while suffocating on a plastic bag will settle for $180,000.  The only issue left to be decided is whether the settlement funds should be given to the deceased's wife or deposited with the Burlington County Surrogate's Office.

According a lawsuit filed by Maria Ortiz, wife of Jorge E. Rivera and the couple's now 12 year old son, Rivera was sitting outside with friends on April 22, 2009 when he was approached by State Trooper Dennis Quinn and Camden County Prosecutor's Office Investigators Peter Longo and Thomas DiNunzio.  Rivera, upon seeing the officers approach, reportedly "attempted to swallow a small plastic bag that was in his possession" when he was attacked by the officers.  Because he was handcuffed, Rivera reportedly could not remove the plastic bag that had become lodged in his throat.

According to the lawsuit, Rivera became unconscious due to the officers' continued beating even while the bag was stuck in his throat.  He was later pronounced dead at Cooper University Hospital and the official cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation.  According to Ortiz's attorney, Mark Frost of Philadelphia, who was quoted in the Courier Post's June 10, 2015 article, the officers "stood idly" by while Rivera was choking and did nothing to help him.  The Courier Post article also reported that the bag that suffocated Rivera contained heroin.

A December 23, 2015 letter, written by John C. Connell, attorney for Longo and DiNunzio, contains several attachments.  Among them are a proposed order and the transcript of the November 18, 2015 hearing before Judge Simandle.  According to the filing, the settlement totals $180,000.  Deducted from that will be $12,901.14 representing Frost's expenses with the balance of $167,098.86 being split in equal shares of $83,549.43 each between Rivera's estate and Frost.  Mr. Frost is quoted in the transcript as saying that had he filed a petition setting forth the true amount of his attorney fees, "it would have been approximately $250,000."  As to the fairness of the settlement, Frost told Judge Simandle that there were "difficulties with the case" because Rivera "was involved in a drug altercation -- a drug transaction during this incident."

It is unknown how settlement will be split between the County Prosecutor and the State.  According to a November 24, 2015 e-mail from Assistant Camden City Attorney Jason J. Asuncion, the City of Camden, while named as a defendant in Ortiz's lawsuit, was dismissed from the suit on June 30, 2014 without having to pay a settlement amount.

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.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Bridgeton secretly pays $5,000 to woman who claims that cop threatened to jail her unless she had sex with him.

On December 17, 2015, the City of Bridgeton (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $5,000 to a female shoplifting suspect who claimed that a Bridgeton police officer threatened to take her to jail if she did not repeatedly have sex with him.

In her suit, Shakera Brown claimed that she was approached by Officer Braheme Days on January 20, 2014 because she matched the description of a shoplifter.  Days allegedly told her that "there are two ways we can handle this: I can take you to jail, or we can handle this in an adult manner."  Brown claimed that since she could not go to jail because she had children at home, Days told her to put her cell number into his phone.  Thereafter, Days started calling her repeatedly for sex and Brown claimed that she reluctantly gave into Days' demands.  Later, Days allegedly gave Brown a pre-paid cellular phone so that he could reach her whenever he desired.

The suit's dismissal was reported on on NJ.com on December 6, 2015 in an article entitled "Sexual extortion lawsuit against Bridgeton cop dismissed after settlement, court says."  According to the article, Brown's lawsuit was dismissed in November because Brown "missed deadlines and failed to share information during the discovery process."

The case is captioned Brown v. City of Bridgeton et al, Federal Case No. 1:15-cv-1452 and Brown's attorney was Raheem S. Watson of Philadelphia.  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 Brown's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $5,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Bridgeton or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Bridgeton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Brown $5,000 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.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Neptune Fire District No. 1 pays $150,000 to settle whistleblower and discrimination lawsuit.

On November 17, 2015, the Neptune Township Fire District No. 1 (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $150,000 to an African-American firefighter, who said that he wasn't being paid for the extra work he was doing, was subjected to racial discrimination and retaliated against for making Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests.

In his suit, Dwayne Breeden, a paid firefighter who also worked for the District as a fire inspector, said that he was appointed to the position of "Temporary Fire Official" after Kenneth G. Northrup's retirements from the Fire Official position in 2009.  Yet, Breeden claimed, he was being paid much less than Northrup even though Breeden performed duties as a firefighter in addition to his duties as a Temporary Fire Official.

Breeden claimed that before he could be paid more, state officials needed to approve his "Firefighter/Fire Official" position.  After he began to suspect that he was being "given the proverbial run-around" regarding the approval, he submitted an OPRA request to the District.  He said that he was initially pleased when, in April 2011, the Board agreed to negotiate with him.  Although he responded promptly to the District's overtures, Breeden claimed that the District reneged on its promise to negotiate and pay him extra for his Fire Official duties.  He claimed that his further inquires and OPRA requests resulted in harassment and retaliation.

Responding to the retaliation, Breeden said that he "blew the whistle" on what he claimed was the District's "attempts at compromising fire safety and prevention in Neptune Township."  In support of that claim, Breeden asserted that since he took over Northrup's job, the Board did not reappoint a fire inspector.  Accordingly, Breeden said he was aggrieved by having to simultaneously perform the Fire official's job, the inspector's job as well as function as a paid firefighter.

Breeden said that he also contacted Frank Clark of the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety to complain about the Board not enforcing violations in a timely manner and for committing "financial improprieties."   This, he said, caused Clark to perform a field visit to the District and issue an unfavorable report.

The next allegation of retaliation came shortly after the Board learned of Breeden's call to Clark.  At the October 15, 2013 meeting, the Board voted to remove Breeden from his "Firefighter/Fire Official" position and establish an "office of Fire Marshall" who would be paid $55,000 per year. The Board then gave Breeden the "Hobson's Choice" of keeping his firefighter position or resigning as a firefighter in order to be the Fire Marshall.  Since he was making more than $55,000 as a firefighter, Breeden knew that the Board realized that he couldn't take the Fire Marshall position.  He said that all of this was a conspiracy "to effect the wrongful de facto discharge of Breeden as Fire Official."

Breeden based his racial discrimination claim on Fire Commissioner Frank Martuscelli's alleged comment that Breeden was "different" than Northrup. He said that that comment caused him to realize that his lesser pay and other negative treatment"stemmed from the fact that he was African-American."

The case is captioned Breeden v. Fire District of Neptune et al, Monmouth County Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-3367-14 and Breeden's attorney was Stephan T. Mashel of Morganville.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Breeden's 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 Neptune or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Neptune or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Breeden $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.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Port Authority secretly pays $271,000 to settle wrongful termination suit.

On June 12, 2012, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey agreed to pay $271,000 to a former employee who claimed that she was pushed out of her job by Governor Chris Christie's office because of "her lack of affiliation with the Republican Party."

In her suit, Hannah Shostack claimed that on August 11, 2010, eight months after Christie took office, her supervisor, Cruz Russell, "informed her that the decision to discharge her came straight from Governor Christie's office and there was nothing he could do to save her job."  According to a January 29, 2012 NorthJersey.com article "Dozens of Port Authority jobs go to Christie loyalists," Christie recommended fifty contributors, campaign workers and their families to the Authority for employment. A Princeton University Professor who has studied the Authority was as saying that "the Christie administration looks like it has made more of an effort to try to reward people who have been useful to him and his associates," an accusation that Christie has denied.

The reason it took so long for this settlement agreement to come to light is explained on NJ Open Government Notes.

The case is captioned Shostack v. Township of Port Authority et al, Federal Case No. 2:11-cv-00177 and Shostack's attorney was Daniel S. Sweetser of Lawrenceville.  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 Shostack's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $271,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Port Authority or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Port Authority or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Shostack $271,000 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, December 15, 2015

Little Egg Harbor school board secretly pays $25,000 to settle wrongful termination suit.

On November 25, 2015, the Little Egg Harbor Board of Education (Ocean County) agreed to pay $25,000 to a former school Cafeteria/Playground Aide who alleged that she was fired for complaining about special needs children, including her sister's children, being supervised by non-certified aides.

In her suit, Joette Montee, who worked for the school district's Frog Pond Elementary School, claimed that whenever her sister contacted the school to complain about how the sister's children were educated, Principal Troy Henderson would become very upset and order Montee to "stop talking to parents," specifically her sister, about what goes on at school.  She claimed that she was fired "for making a comment of a personal and private nature to a third party in a conversation that [she] reasonably believed to be confidential in nature."

In contrast, a December 13, 2012 school incident report claimed that Montee walked into the school cafeteria loudly repeating that school Principal Troy Henderson "needs to keep his d*** in his pants" and that he does not know how to run a school or control children.  According to the report, Montee, who was escorted off school grounds by officers while saying "I've had it with this f***ing place," was using profanity loudly enough for children to hear and was "making people in the cafeteria feel uncomfortable."

The case is captioned Montee v. Little Egg Harbor Board of Education, et al, Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-3835-13 and Montee's attorney was Benjamin B. Brenner of Galloway.  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 Montee'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 Little Egg Harbor or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Little Egg Harbor or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Montee $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.

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.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Long Branch school district secretly pays $347,500 to settle lawsuits by 7 years olds were wrapped in tape by school janitors.

I'm trying to develop a complete list of settlements that arose out of lawsuits filed by the parents of four second-grade boys at the Gregory Elementary School in Long Branch who claimed that school janitors wrapped them with tape in a school restroom.

There are conflicting stories regarding the janitors' motivations. The  parents' lawyers in the two lawsuits (here and here) say the incidents were"outrageous," "shocking" and part of a "sick desire" while media reports (here and here) quote school officials as saying that the students' movement was never restricted and that it was just "a joke gone bad."

Whatever happened, I have secured three settlement agreements showing that the parents settled for a total of $347,500.  Due to the redactions applied to the settlements, I am having trouble determining whether I have all the settlements that arose out of the cases.  This is what I do know:
  • The first settlement shows an unidentified student receiving a $108,746.93 payment on his 25th birthday on July 22, 2029.  The $108,746.93 has a present value of $73,103.68 which, together with attorney fees of $24,367.89 and litigation expenses of $7,528.43 makes the settlement value $105,000.
  • The second settlement shows an unidentified student receiving a $108,631.00 payment on his 25th birthday on July 11, 2029.  The $108,631.00 has a present value of $73,103.68 which, together with attorney fees of $24,367.89 and litigation expenses of $7,528.43 makes the settlement value $105,000.
  • The third settlement shows an unidentified student receiving a $143,894.87 payment on his 25th birthday on July 19, 2029.  The $143,894.87 has a present value of $96,297.63 which, together with attorney fees of $32,099.20 and litigation expenses of $9,103.17 makes the settlement value $137,500.
So, in total, the students received present value payments of $242,504.99 while the law firm of Tacopina & Segal P.C got $80,834.98 in fees and $24,160.03 in expenses.

The settlement agreements each contain 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 the students' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the  payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lakewood or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Long Branch or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the students and their lawyers $347,500 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.

South Bound Brook settles with its former police chief.

On November 12, 2015, the Borough of South Bound Brook (Somerset County) entered into a settlement agreement with its former police chief who had been charged with leaving the scene of an April 4, 2015, 2 a.m. accident.

According to a police report, South Bound Patrolman Richard Meinsen responded to Chief William C. King's residence at about 2:25 a.m. and noticed that King's vehicle, which fit the description of the hit and run vehicle, was parked in his driveway.  When King came out of his home to speak with the officer, he had alcohol on his breath.  King explained that he had a few drinks while at home.

According to the settlement, King agreed to retire on December 1, 2015 and to "release any and all claims against South Bound Brook "without any admission of liability or otherwise related to his employment."  In return, the Borough agreed to pay King a total of $109,874.81 in three annual installments which covers King's accrued sick, vacation and personal time as well as retroactive pay and compensatory hours owed.  In addition, King's pay will increase to $148,561 retroactive to January 1, 2015, but King waives any rights he has to further health insurance.  The agreement also calls for King's retirement to be in good standing and will allow him to keep his Smith & Wesson service weapon along with three magazines and holsters.

Jersey City pays $20,000 to settle improper, warrantless search lawsuit.

Philip D. Zacche
Jersey City Police Chief
On November 10, 2015, the City of Jersey City (Hudson County) agreed to pay $20,000 to a man who, according to a state judge's written opinion, was subjected to an illegal search of his apartment by Jersey City Police.

In his suit, Keith Pantaleon claimed that on January 24, 2013, Jersey City Police Officers Sean Francis Licata and E. Abdelaziz (presumably Ehab R. Abdelaziz) responded to his apartment building in response to another tenant's 911 call complaining of no heat. Pantaleon alleged that the officers entered his apartment without warrant or probable cause, discovered a gun and brought firearms possession charges against him. Pantaleon backed up his claim by attaching to his lawsuit a January 15, 2014 written opinion by Hudson County Superior Court Judge John A. Young, Jr. suppressing the gun as having been the fruits of an illegal search.  Pantaleon claimed that he was jailed for 35 days with an HIV positive inmate and that the imprisonment caused him to lose his job with a Fortune 500 firm.

The case is captioned Pantaleon v. City of Jersey City et al, Federal Case No. 2:15-cv-0045 and Pantaleon's attorney was David H. Huang of Eatontown.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Pantaleon's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement resolution expressly states that the $20,000 payment does not admit wrongdoing by Jersey City or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Jersey City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pantaleon $20,000 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, December 4, 2015

Lakewood secretly pays $55,000 to settle police false arrest suit.

Robert Lawson
Lakewood Chief of Police
On November 20, 2015, the Township of Lakewood (Ocean County) agreed to pay $55,000 to a man and woman who said they were wrongfully arrested for burglary.

In their suit, Victor Wilson and Maria Rizzolo claimed that they were put under surveillance by Lakewood Police Sergeant Greg Staffordsmith and Detectives Michael Cavallo, Peter Aakjer and Thomas Delia on January 16, 2013 even though the burglary under investigation was reported to have been committed by a white male with bushy hair while Wilson is a dark-skinned African-American who never had bushy hair.  The surveillance resulted in Wilson's and Rizzolo's arrest.  A search of the car the pair was in at the time of the arrest contained what the police referred to as "bolt cutters, a sledgehammer and wire cutters."  The complaint alleged that the items were actually "hedge clippers with long wooden handles for trimming shrubs, an ordinary hammer, or maul, and a pair of pliers."

At the police station, Rizzolo was allegedly told that she would not see her children again unless she cooperated.  In order to increase the pressure, the complaint alleges that police retrieved Rizzolo's 9 year old children from their schools and took them to the police station so that they could see their mother in handcuffs.  The complaint alleges that Rizzolo cracked under the pressure and told police that Wilson had committed the burglaries.  They claimed that Cavallo falsely testified at grand jury proceedings.  Wilson claimed that he spent eleven months in jail and that a judge suppressed the evidence against him for want of probable cause. The pair also claimed to have been harassed by Lakewood Police as a result of having filed their civil suit.

The case is captioned Wilson and Rizzolo v. Township of Lakewood et al, Federal Case No. :15-cv-0Q229 and Wilson' and Rizzolo's attorney was Michael A. D'Aquanni of Springfield.  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 Wilson and Rizzolo's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $55,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Lakewood or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Lakewood or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Wilson and Rizzolo $55,000 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.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Willingboro secretly pays $250,000 to settle police shooting lawsuit.

On October 27, 2015, the Township of Willingboro (Burlington County) agreed to pay $250,000 to a man who was shot in the back and whose dog was killed during a 2011 SWAT raid.

In his suit, Christian M. Whichard claimed that on September 27, 2011 a SWAT team consisting of Willingboro Sergeants James McKendrick and Christopher Vetter and Patrolman Bennie Langford and Cinnaminson Lieutenant Timothy Young broke down the front door of Whichard's home and ordered him and others to get down on the floor.  Whichard claims that while he was face down on the floor, "he was shot in the back with an assault rifle by an officer executing the search warrant."  The complaint alleges that Langford was the shooter.

Whichard's girlfiend, Jessica Evans, testified that the officers shot and killed Whichard's pit bull. Her testimony caused a federal judge to write that "[t]here is evidence in the record from which a reasonable jury could conclude that Officer Langford intentionally fired his weapon into Plaintiff’s back as he lay prone on the floor."

The case is captioned Whichard v. Township of Willingboro et al, Federal Case No. 1:13-cv-03606 and Whichard's attorney was Charles H. Nugent of Marlton.  Case documents are on-line here.  Cinnaminson Township and Lieutenant Young were dismissed from the lawsuit on July 17, 2014 and, according to a December 16, 2015 e-mail from Cinnaminson Township Clerk Pamela McCartney, "there was no monetary agreement for dismissal."

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 Whichard's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $250,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Willingboro or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Willingboro or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Whichard $250,000 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.

Cumberland County pays $1,540,000 to settle jail beat down lawsuit.

On September 4, 2015, the County of Cumberland agreed to pay $1,540,000 to a jail inmate who claimed that he was severely beaten by County Corrections Officers.

In his suit, Michael Alan Ewing claimed that on June 30, 2008, he was transported to the Cumberland County jail in Bridgeton by Vineland Police Officer James Day.  After having a cut above his left eye attended to by jail medical staff, Ewing claimed that Sergeant Clint Ciangaglini threw him head first into a door without provocation.  This incident caused Ewing to be transported to the hospital and upon his return to jail he claimed that "the correctional officer defendants" proceeded to beat him, "repeatedly punching him, kicking him, strangling him, pepper spraying him until they realized the severity of his injuries."  Ewing's lawsuit names the following as "correctional officer defendants": Lieutenant Dale Sciore, Sergeants Clint Ciangaglini and Brad Pierce and Correctional Officers Edwin Pratts, Kevin Still, Joshua L. Minguela, Drew Ford, John Fazzolari, Rena Miller and Marvin Church.  He claimed that the injuries that he sustained required him to be flown via helicopter to the emergency room at Cooper Hospital where he was placed in the intensive care unit on a ventilator.  He further claimed that jail officials falsified reports and tried to cover up the incident.

Of the officers named in the suit, John Fazzolari, Drew Ford, Joshua Minguela, Kevin Still and Kevin Pratts were indicted in July 2009 for aggravated assault, official misconduct and other charges.  Still was cleared at trial in early 2013 and charges against the other four officers were dismissed in July 2013.

Also named in the suit were Vineland Officers James Day and Steven Houbary.  The lawsuit accused the two Vineland officers of standing "idly by while Mr. Ewing was assaulted and battered."

The case is captioned Ewing v. County of Cumberland et al, Federal Case No. 1:09- cv-05432 and Ewing's attorney was Martin P. Duffy of Cherry Hill.  Case documents are on-line here.

According to an August 25, 2015 County Freeholder resolution, $250,000 of the amount was paid for by the County as its "self-insured retention" and the balance was paid by the County's insurance carrier.  It is presently unknown how much, if any, Vineland contributed.

None of Ewing's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the $1,540,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Cumberland or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Cumberland or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ewing $1,540,000 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, December 2, 2015

Shore Regional school board pays $125,000 to settle wrongful termination suit.

On June 10, 2015, the Shore Regional Board of Education (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $125,000 to a female bus driver who claimed she was fired because she filed a worker's compensation claim.

In her suit, Susan J. Collins claimed that she was fired on December 11, 2012 after she had injured her left shoulder and neck during work on January 30, 2012.  She claimed that "the sole or one of the substantial reasons for [school district's] mistreatment of [was its] retaliation against [her] for seeking Workers' Compensation Benefits under the Workers' Compensation Laws of the State of New Jersey."  Collins similarly claimed that the Board violated her rights under the Family Medical Leave Act.

The case is captioned Collins v. Shore Regional High School District et al, Monmouth County Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-3138-13 and Collins's attorney was Neal M. Unger of East Brunswick.  Case documents are on-line here. Also named in the suit are Donna Applegate, Dennis Kotch and Matilda Lukanovic.

None of Collins'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 Shore Regional or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Shore Regional or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Collins $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.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Hanover secretly pays $100,000 to settle woman's strip search suit.

On November 5, 2015, the Township of Hanover (Morris County) agreed to pay $100,000 to a Randolph woman who claimed that she was strip searched after having been arrested on a warrant for not paying a speeding ticket.

In her suit, Stephanie E. Drouillard claimed that Hanover Police Sergeant Ryan Williams arrested her on August 23, 2014 on an outstanding warrant due to Drouillard's failure to pay a speeding ticket.  According to the complaint, an unidentified female officer then arrived and told Drouillard "I'm here to baby sit you. I'm here to make sure your rights are protected and his rights are protected."  About a half hour later, Drouillard claimed that Williams told her "We haven't searched her yet. We should probably do that. We haven't done it yet."  Thereafter, Drouillard was allegedly taken into a jail cell and "ordered to take off her shirt and pants and strip searched with the door of the holding cell remaining open."

The case is captioned Drouillard v. Township of Hanover et al, Federal Case No. 2:14-cv-06650 and Drouillard's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon 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 Drouillard's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. The settlement agreement resolution expressly states that the `$100,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Hanover or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Hanover or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Drouillard $100,000 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.