Thursday, March 17, 2016

Dumont confidentially pays $140,000 to resolve family's excessive force claims.


Updated: March 20, 2016

On February 27, 2016, the Borough of Dumont (Bergen County) agreed to pay $140,000 to four members of a Trinidadian family who claimed that Dumont police falsely arrested, maliciously prosecuted and applied excessive force against them.

In their lawsuit, parents Bindhyana and Anjanie Persad and two of the their sons, Chonan and Rovin Persad, claimed that two Dumont police officers and a police sergeant escalated a June 23, 2012 routine motor vehicle stop into a "riot" that resulted in the arrest of four family members with one of them being pepper-sprayed and another son, Rovie, who is not a party to the lawsuit, being pepper-sprayed and choked.

According to the complaint, Rovie was the driver of a vehicle in which his brother Chonan and two others were passengers.  As the car pulled into the driveway of the Persad family's Dumont home, Dumont Officer Steven Quintano stopped the vehicle and accused Rovie of driving under the influence of alcohol.  Rovie said that he passed all the field sobriety tests that Quintano and fellow officer Brian Joyce had him do and then, "tired of harassment" he "started to walked towards his house to speak to his father."

At this point, Quintano and Joyce allegedly jumped Rovie and put him in a headlock and began choking him.  Chonan then exited the vehicle and started taking photographs which led to him being placed in handcuffs and being accused of assaulting a police officer.  Sergeant James Flaherty then arrived and allegedly "joined in [Quintano's and Joyce's] assault" on Rovie and Chonan.

The mother, Anjanie Persad, was allegedly pepper-sprayed while she was inside her home after she allegedly refused Quintano's order to close the door and stay inside.  Rovie claims also to have been pepper-sprayed.

Rovie and Chonan said that they were held at the Bergen County Jail for about twelve hours.  Chonan reportedly received 3rd degree aggravated assault and 4th degree threatening and obstruction charges. Rovin, who was inside the house with his parents Bindhyana and Anjanie, said that they were charged by Officer Joyce five days later with Obstruction of Justice.

According to the lawsuit, the Bergen County Prosecutor dismissed all charges against the family except that Rovie pleaded guilty to a disorderly persons offense.

The case is captioned Persad v. Borough of Dumont, et al, Federal Case No. 2:13-cv-02944 and the Persads' attorney was Diego F. Navas of Newark.  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 the Persads' 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 Dumont or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Persads $140,000 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.