Friday, July 29, 2016

Mount Olive Township confidentially paid out $60,000 to settle motorist's police false arrest and excessive force lawsuit.

On November 30, 2015, the Township of Mount Olive (Morris County) agreed to pay a Flanders man $60,000 to settle his claim that a Township police officer's conduct during a motor vehicle stop caused a Superior Court judge who reviewed the recording of the encounter to remark that she was "appalled by the conduct of the police in this tape" and that she found "it rather disturbing . . ."

In his lawsuit, Carl J. Granese said that on April 19, 2012, Officer Anthony Gardner stopped his car for a traffic violation.  Gardner allegedly asked Granese if he had smoked marijuana, inspected his eyelids and tongue and had him perform field sobriety tests. 

Gardner then asked for consent to search Granese's vehicle because he "perceived the odor of raw marijuana" in the vehicle.  Gardner reportedly became irritated when Granese did not consent to the search and called in a the Morris County K-9 Unit.  Gardner allegedly said he was "frustrated that [Granese] was wasting his time by refusing to consent to the search."

According to the complaint, no drugs or any other contraband were found in Granese's car but Gardner allegedly grabbed Granese, threw him to the ground and handcuffed him after Granese had used his cell phone after having received permission to do so by Sergeant Michael Novak.

Granese said that he was taken to the police station and booked for resisting arrest and obstruction of justice and was given traffic summonses for having an  expired license, failing to have a passenger mirror and making an unsafe lane change. 

Mount Olive Municipal Court Judge Brian Levine reportedly dismissed the resisting arrest charge but found Granese guilty on all the other charges.  On appeal, Superior Court Judge Mary Gibbons Whipple reportedly reversed the obstruction conviction.

The case is captioned Granese v. Gardner, Morris County Superior Court Docket No. MRS-L-2957-13 and Granese' attorney was John F. McDonnell of Washington.  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 Mount Olive or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Granese $60,000 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.