Monday, March 28, 2016

Boonton to confidentially pay $75,000 to settle motorist's excessive force suit.

On March 17, 2016, the Town of Boonton (Morris County) produced a draft settlement agreement that calls for a $75,000 settlement payment to a local man who claimed that a Boonton police officer assaulted him and threatened to shoot his dogs.

In his complaint, Jefrrey B. Eckert (also referred to as Jeffrey B. Eckert) said that on August 2, 2012 he was driving through town when Officer Stephen Jones determined by way of a license plate check that he had an expired driver license.  After Jones made a U-turn and caught up to Eckert, Eckert's car was already in front of his residence.  Eckert claims that after he got out of his car, Jones struck him violently, sprayed him with OC spray, kicked him in the head and in his ribs while he was on the ground and threatened to shoot his two dogs. Eckert, who said that he did nothing to provoke the attack, claimed that he was charged with Obstructing and Resisting as well as motor vehicle offenses.  Eckert said that he was indicted but that the indictment was ultimately dismissed and the matters against him handled in municipal court.

The case is captioned Eckert v. Town of Boonton, et al, Federal Case No. 2:14-cv-04807 and Eckert's attorney was Gregg D. Trautmann of Denville.  Case documents are on-line here.

The draft 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 Eckert's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Boonton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Eckert $75,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision 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 resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Note: The court marked the case as having settled on March 2, 2016.  While it is possible that a dispute will arise prior to the settlement agreement being signed, this rarely happens because the settlement has been negotiated and agreed to by all the parties.  Readers who wish to be absolutely sure that this case settled according to the terms stated above should submit an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the final, signed settlement agreement.