Saturday, December 31, 2016

Aberdeen confidentially paid out $15,000 to settle police invasion of privacy lawsuit.

On December 1, 2016, the Township of Aberdeen (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $15,000 to a woman who claimed that Township police trespassed on her property, invaded her privacy and terrorized her.

In her lawsuit, Yolanda Mitter, claimed that several unidentified police officers, for no reason, banged on her door at about 2 a.m. on August 15, 2013 and made "offensive, threatening, harassing, frightening, menacing and terrorizing" remarks to her from outside her home.  She claimed that the officers' presence and remarks placed her "in panic, fear and terror that her home and body may be invaded."

Individually named as defendants were Chief of Police John T. Powers, Captain Alan Geyer, Sergeant Hank Chevalier and Patrolmen Michael Plant and Craig Hausman.

The case is captioned Mitter v. Township of Aberdeen, et al, Docket No. MON-L-3803-14 and Mitter's attorney was Robert A. Morley of Shrewsbury. Case documents are on-line here.  UPDATE: See the police reports and other information on the underlying incident 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 Aberdeen or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Mitter $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.