Thursday, June 23, 2016

Freehold Township confidentially pays $80,000 to resolve racial profiling, false arrest lawsuit.

On June 2, 2016, the Township of Freehold (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $80,000 to an African-American man from Neptune who said that he was profiled, forcibly handcuffed and falsely arrested and imprisoned.

In his lawsuit, Mateek U. Pugh said that police were called when his arm was struck by a pickup truck's side-view mirror while he was crossing the street.  When Officer Jack Mandala arrived at the scene with Officer William Gallo, Mandala allegedly "transform[ed Pugh] from a pedestrian struck by a motor vehicle into a stereotypical angry, intoxicated, black male suspect."  According to the complaint, Mandala asked Pugh "do you understand who I am?" and told him "I have been looking for you." Thereafter, Mandala allegedly grabbed Pugh's injured right arm, placed him in a compliance bold and forced him onto the hood of the patrol vehicle and handcuffed his arms behind his back. 

After finding a television remote control in Pugh's pocket, Mandala allegedly accused him of committing burglaries in the area.  Mandala also allegedly approached Brian R, Graga, the driver of the pickup, and told him that "he did not drive into Mr. Pugh and strike him with his driver side mirror [but] that Mr. Pugh had run over to his truck and intentionally struck the driver side mirror with his hand/arm or with the remote control he had in his possession."  Graga was was allegedly "in a dating relationship with Sergeant [Raymond] Piccolini's daughter." 

Pugh was charged with criminal mischief, resisting attest, 4th aggravated assault on a police officer.  He was held at the Monmouth County Jail until he could post $3,500 bail.  Pugh said that after his release from jail, "he went to Jersey Shore Medical Center where he was diagnosed with and treated for an injury to his right arm that was untied by the motor vehicle accident."

The case is captioned Pugh v. Township of Freehold, et al, Federal Case No. 3:14-cv-03778 and Pugh's attorney was Kevin E. Daniels of Asbury Park.  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 lawsuit'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 Freehold or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pugh $80,000 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.