Saturday, May 21, 2016

Teaneck to pay $275,000 to settle church custodian's police excessive force lawsuit.

On May 20, 2016, the Township of Teaneck (Bergen County) produced a draft settlement agreement that calls for $275,000 to be paid to settle a church custodian's lawsuit that charged Township officers with beating him while he was handcuffed.

In his suit, Donald Farrar claimed that at about one o'clock on the morning of May 25, 2010 he was working as a custodian of St. Paul's Lutheran Church cleaning the church's lounge area.  After hearing sounds outside the church, we went outside and saw Officer Spence Osaigbovo approaching him.  Farrar alleged that when he tried to explain that nothing was wrong and that he was working a late shift, Osaigbovo struck him without provocation "across the face and on the side of [his] head with his flashlight . . . . tackled [Farrar] to the ground causing [him] to hit the back of his head upon the floor and momentarily lose consciousness and sustain personal injuries to his mouth and teeth."

According to the complaint, Officer Craig Luebeck then arrived and kicked Farrar while Osaigbovo held him down.  Osaigbovo and Luebeck then allegedly beat him some more when he was handcuffed in the back of a patrol car.  Sergeant Harry Harrison and Officers Glen Coley and Michael Danenza also arrived on scene and allegedly refused Farrar's pleas to verify his identity.

Also named in the suit were Chief Robert Wilson and Officer Kevin Brennan.

The case is captioned Farrar v. County of Teaneck, et al, Federal Case No. 2:12-cv-03096 and Farrar's attorney was Paul Rizzo of Warren.  Case documents are on-line here

None of Farrar'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 Teaneck or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Farrar $275,000 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.

Note: The court marked the case as having settled.  While it is possible that a dispute will arise prior to the settlement agreement being signed by the Township, 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.