Monday, September 5, 2016

Montclair Township confidentially paid out $30,000 to settle false arrest and malicious prosecution lawsuit.

On May 20, 2016, the Township of Montclair (Essex County) agreed to pay $30,000 to a local man who claimed that police falsely arrested him and, at the police station, "ordered [him] to take his clothes off in a humiliating manner while officers around him ridiculed and laughed at [him]."

In his lawsuit, Kevin Ali, said that on October 12, 2012 he was a passanger in his friend Adele Perdue's car which was pulled over by Montclair police.  According to the complaint, Ali got out of the car and the officers ordered him back into the car and then ordered him out of the car to arrest him.  He said that he was charged with Disorderly Conduct and Obtructing Administration of Law or Government Function.  At the police station, he alleged that he was ordered to take his clothes off while officers ridiculed him.  Ali claimed that he was ultimately found not guilty of both charges.

The complaint lists the two officers involved only by their last names--Locklear and Russo.  Locklear is presumably Christopher Locklear, who presently holds the rank of Sergeant.  According to DataUniverse, Montclair employs two police officers with the surname Russo--Vincent D. Russo and Christopher A. Russo.  It is unknown which officer is the defendant in this lawsuit.  Police Chief David Sabagh, who recently retired, is also named as a defendant. 

The case is captioned Ali v. Township of Montclair, et al, Superior Court Docket No. ESX-L-7172-14 and Ali's attorney was Randy P. Davenport of Piscataway.  Case documents are on-line here and the lawsuit exhibits 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 Montclair or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ali $30,000 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.