Sunday, October 2, 2016

NJ Transit, Far Hills paid out $15,000 to settle lawsuit filed by horse racing fan.

On July 22, 2016, the New Jersey Transit Corporation and the Borough of Far Hills (Somerset County) each agreed to pay $7,500 to a man who claimed that he was falsely arrested and assaulted by police and then, five months later, improperly charged with Criminal Mischief for allegedly urinating on a cloth-covered chair to which he was handcuffed.

In his lawsuit, Samuel H. Collingswood said that on October 20, 2012 at about 6 p.m. he and two friends were waiting at the Far Hills train station after having attended the Far Hills Races--a steeplechase horse racing event. The trio "had been drinking but had not violated any laws or ordinances."  One of Collingswood's friends, Chris Twombly, allegedly "complained loudly about the fare" charged by New Jersey Transit which the attention of a New Jersey Transit police officer who grabbed Twombly's shoulder. 

Collingwood said that he approached the officer to advise him that Twombly had recently dislocated his shoulder when, according to Collingswood, he was "assaulted" by transit officer Robert Sobocinski and other transit officers. The officers allegedly shoved Collingswood's head into the side of the train, dragged him from the station and threw him into a bush near Route 202. 

Collingswood claimed that he "urinated in his pants when he was thrown into the bush." He said that he was arrested for Disorderly Conduct and taken to the Far Hills municipal building where he was handcuffed to a cloth-covered chair.

Collingswood claimed that Far Hills Officer Ken Hartman, in response to his claims about his mistreatment by the Transit Police, videotaped him and said "I promise you that this is going be used against you" and "You're gonna be sorry that I'm videotaping."

On March 14, 2013, about five months after the arrest, Hartman allegedly issued Collingswood a Criminal Mischief summons for "urinat[ing] in his pants while being held in custody and saturating the cloth-covered seat portion of a chair within the Far Hills Municipal Court."  Collingwood said that Hartman issued the summons to retaliate against him for having filed a motion to quash the Disorderly Conduct summons on March 7, 2013.  He also said that any urine on the chair (which had been discarded by police) transferred from his pants which had become saturated when he urinated himself after having been  thrown into the bush.  According to the lawsuit, the Criminal Mischief summons was later dismissed.

Also named in the lawsuit was New Jersey Transit Officer Kevin Mooney.

The case is captioned Collingswood v. New Jersey Transit, et al, Federal Case No. 2:14-cv-6228 and Collingswood's attorney was W. James Mac Naughton of Newton.  Case documents are on-line here.

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 New Jersey Transit, Far Hills and/or their insurers, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Collingswood $15,000 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.