Thursday, July 21, 2016

Willingboro Township confidentially paid out $75,000 to settle woman's police excessive force lawsuit.

On July 14, 2016, the Township of Willingboro (Burlington County) agreed to pay a local woman $75,000 to settle her claim that Township police officers assaulted her while she was trying to help her friend who was just involved in a car accident.

In her lawsuit, Nicole Davis said that on she was first to arrive on the scene of a January 13, 2012 auto accident and that she tried to get her friend Tiffany out of the car.  After Sergeant Richard Coupe, Officer Curtis Hankey and another unnamed officer arrived on the scene, Davis said that she asked for and received permission from them to remove Tiffany's purse that contained needed medicine from the car.  She said that despite receiving permission, Coupe grabbed from behind without warning while she was in the process of retrieving the purse.  She said that she was dragged from the car and repeatedly punched in the back of the head and neck by Coupe, Hankey and other other officer.  The trio then allegedly repeatedly slammed her head against the car window and then handcuffed her too tightly and ignored her pleas to loosen them.

The case is captioned Davis v. Township of Willingboro, et al, Federal Case No. 1:14-cv-00183 and Davis' attorney was Thomas Bruno II of Philadelphia.  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 Willingboro or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Davis $75,000 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.