Monday, March 14, 2016

Union City confidentially pays $67,000 to resolve former Newark cop's false arrest suit.

On September 4, 2015, the City of Union City (Hudson County) agreed to pay $67,000 to former Newark police officer who claimed that she was falsely arrested after she had sought employment from Union City's former Deputy Police Chief who had started his own private investigation company after retirement.

In her complaint, former Newark officer Moraima Medina said that on July 20, 2011 she drove to Union City to meet with former Deputy Chief Joseph Blaetter to discuss employment with his firm East Coast Private Investigations of New Jersey.  Medina described Blaetter as someone who has "worked tirelessly to expose widespread corruption" in Union City that been "perpetrated by [Union City Mayor] Brian Stack."

Before she met Blaetter, she noticed that her car was surrounded by several uniformed police officers including Chief Charles Everett, Lieutenant Raymond Vasquez and Officer Anthony Onorato as well Legislative Aide Mark Albiez who was dressed in civilian clothes.   Upon her approach, Confidential Assistant Carlos Vallejo allegedly announced "That's her!" at which point Everett and Public Works Deputy Director Phil Iacovelli allegedly asked Medina who she was working for and what she was doing in Union City.  Medina claimed that Everett said "Tell us that you work for Joe Blaetter and we'll let you go."

Medina claimed that she was then arrested for driving while suspended and placed in jail while her car was impounded and searched. She said that during her arrest, Everett told her "that she was NEVER to go into Union City again."  After her arrest, additional charges of 4th degree stalking, owning an unregistered vehicle, blocking a crosswalk and driving an uninsured vehicle were lodged against her, although the stalking charge was later downgraded to harassment.

She said that her case bounced around among the Union City, Secaucus, East Newark and Jersey City municipal courts and that the charges were ultimately dismissed on double jeopardy grounds. Medina said that her defense lawyer, Wolodymyr Tyschenko then received a letter from lawyer James M. LaBianca who claimed that he was appealing the dismissal on behalf of Carlos Vallejo.  Tyschenko, according to Medina's complaint, was later told by LaBianca that he was pursuing the appeal on behalf of Union City and its police department "in an attempt to shield those entities from civil liability should Moraima file suit against them."  At the time of the complaint's filing, Medina's motion to dismiss the appeal was pending.

The case is captioned Medina v. City of Union City, et al, Federal Case No. 2:13-cv-04393 and Medina's attorney was Lora B. Glick 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 Medina'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 Union City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Medina $67,000 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.