Monday, June 13, 2016

Paterson confidentially pays $50,000 to resolve police wrongful death lawsuit.

On June 8, 2016, the City of Paterson (Passaic County) agreed to pay $50,000 to the estate of a man who was shot in the back and killed by Paterson Police on January 1, 2012.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit is Michael Hyatt who, according to a January 5, 2012 newspaper article, is a Corrections Officer.  Hyatt claimed that his brother, Jacobe Hyatt, was killed by a single shot fired by Officer Javier Gutierrez, who "discharged his weapon without provocation and without just cause."  The newspaper, however, reports that Gutierrez said he fired only after having ordered Hyatt to drop a loaded handgun that police later claimed to have found underneath his body. 

The case is captioned Hyatt v. City of Paterson, et al, Federal Case No. 13-7792 and Hyatt's attorneys were Pamela Lynn Brause of Metuchen and Lucas E. Phillips of East Orange.  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 Paterson or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Hyatt $50,000 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.