Monday, August 29, 2016

Employee who dated Toms River school superintendent-cum-felon nets $150,000 settlement on her retaliation and sex harassment claim.

On August 29, 2016, the Toms River Board of Education (Ocean County) produced a draft agreement that calls for $150,000 to be paid to a food service manager who claimed that her June 2014 termination was motivated by her refusal to submit to her direct supervisor's sexual advances and because she had dated a former superintendent who had gone to prison for corruption.

In her suit, Donna Mansfield claimed that interim Superintendent Frank Roselli asked her to resign after Superintendent Michael Ritacco, who Mansfield was dating, was arrested in October 2010 on official corruption charges for receiving more than $1 million in bribes from insurance brokers and other service providers.  When Mansfield refused to resign, Roselli allegedly became angry and retaliated against her by transferring her, taking away assignments and cutting her salary by $20,000.  Roselli was named as Ritacco's replacement in January 2011.

Mansfield claimed that school officials then appointed Peter Brattan to serve as the school district's Food Service Director and as Mansfield's direct supervisor.  She claimed that Brattan sexually harassed her and tried to get her to sign off on fraudulent vouchers.  When she refused his sexual advances and reported him to the union, Brattan allegedly told her that "I am going to bust your balls every day until you leave."

The case is captioned Donna Mansfield v. Toms River Board of Education, Federal Case No. 3:15-cv-01078 and Mansfield's attorney was Emre Polat of New York.  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 Mansfield'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 Toms River or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Mansfield $150,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle 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 settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Note: The court marked the case as having settled.  While it is possible that a dispute will arise prior to the settlement agreement being signed by the Board of Education, this rarely happens because the settlement has been negotiated and agreed to by all the parties.  Readers who wish to be absolutely sure that this case settled according to the terms stated above should submit an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the final, signed settlement agreement.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

$250,000 paid to settle excessive force lawsuit against Vineland police.

On July 25, 2016, a handwritten settlement agreement was drawn up calling for a $250,000 settlement payment to be made to a Pittsgrove man who sued Vineland (Cumberland County) Police for allegedly beating him into unconsciousness and recklessly driving him around unrestrained causing him to bounce around inside the police car and injure himself.

In his lawsuit, John Panarello, said that he and his wife Sheri had an acrimonious relationship with their next door neighbors, Antonio and Jeanne Ramos, mostly concerning the boundary line between their adjacent properties.  Antonio Ramos was employed by the City of Vineland as a police detective. 

An argument erupted on February 11, 2010 during which Ramos allegedly told Panarello that he would get the "brotherhood" of Vineland officers to retaliate against him. This comment caused Panarello to file an Internal Affairs complaint against Ramos which Panarello said resulted in Ramos being disciplined.

The bickering ensued until July 10, 2010 when Sergeant William Bontcue came to Panarello's home to speak to him about his alleged harassment of Ramos.  Panarello claimed that Bontcue was aggressive, slapped a video camera out of Panarello's hand, shoved him and told him that if he bothered Ramos again, he would be arrested and "taught a lesson."

The same day, according to the civil complaint, Panarello was weed-whacking along his privacy fence that bordered Ramos' property.  This irritated Ramos who allegedly responded by squirting Panarello in the face with a garden hose.  According to Panarello, the water in the hose was very hot from sitting in the sun and burned his face.  The two then got into a struggle which resulted in Panarello retreating to his house to call police.

At the same time, Ramos' wife, Jeanne, called police and reported that Panarello attacked her husband with a 2 x 6.  Panarello maintained that he only used the wood to block the water stream from Ramos' hose.  Sergeant Jeffrey Riggione, in response to Jeanne's call, "ordered all available police units to the Ramos property."  The following officers responded: Adam Shaw, Matthew Laielli, Antonio Ramos, Diane Fava, William Newman, Chris Rodriquez, Jeffrey Riggione, Brian Armstrong, Stephen Houbary and Adam Austino.

Laielli, Shaw and Armstrong allegedly entered Panarello's house held him down on his dining room floor and "beat [him] about the face and head with closed fists until [he] was unconscious."  The alleged beating was done in the presence of Panarello's wife Sheri and their seven year old daughter Angelina.

According to newspaper accounts, Armstrong, who drove Panarello to the police station, placed him in an unrestrained cruiser that "stopped and accelerated abruptly" to cause Panarello additional injuries.  Panarello also accused Officer James H. Day of pepper-spraying him in the face while he was handcuffed at the police station.

On February 8, 2016 and July 7, 2016, United States District Court Judge Robert B. Kugler dismissed many of Panarello's claims and dismissed several defendants from the suit. However, warrantless arrest and entry charges against Laielli and Shaw survived Kugler's dismissal orders as excessive force claims against Armstrong and Day and assault and battery claims against Ramos.

The case is captioned Panarello v. City of Vineland, et al, Federal Case No. 1:12-cv-04165 and Panarello's attorney was Louis P. McFadden, Jr. of Northfield.  The complaint is on-line here and the settlement agreement is on-line here.

It is presently unknown how much of the $250,000 settlement was underwritten by Vineland and how much, if any, was paid by Ramos.

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 Vineland or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Panarello $250,000 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.

Manasquan Borough confidentially paid out $87,500 to settle former Code Enforcement Supervisor's wrongful discharge lawsuit.

On May 6, 2016, the Borough of Manasquan (Monmouth County) agreed to pay $87,500 to its former Code Enforcement Supervisor who said that he was fired for not yielding to the former mayor's pressure to refrain from enforcing the code against various people including the daughter of the mayor's friend.

In his lawsuit, Patrick J. Callahan, said that then Mayor George Dempsey pressured him to not enforce the building and municipal codes against Borough residents.  When he refused to back down, Dempsey, along with present Borough Administrator Joseph DiIorio, allegedly retaliated against him by berating and humiliating him, undermining him with residents, employees and contractors and restructuring his hours to prevent him from doing part time inspection work for Sea Girt and Brielle.  He said that Dempsey and DiIorio increased his workload to "set him up to fail."  He said that he was fired in August 2013 and lost his pension because he was not yet vested.

The case is captioned Callahan v. Borough of Manasquan, et al, Monmouth County Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-3847-13 and Callahan's attorney was Maurice W. McLaughlin of Totowa.  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 Manasquan or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Callahan $87,500 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.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Atlantic City to confidentially pay $75,000 to man who said that city police "brutally beat" him.

On August 17, 2016, the Atlantic City (Atlantic County) Council, by a 7 to 2 vote, approved a $75,000 settlement to resolve a lawsuit brought by an Essex County man who said that he was beaten and falsely arrested by police after a bouncer removed him from a casino nightclub.

In his lawsuit, Anthony Bocchino said that on August 12, 2012 he was removed from Harrah's Pool After Dark nightclub "after a nonviolent word exchange with a bouncer."  He said that he then encountered officers Donnell Holland and James Mittenberger who "brutally beat" him and "falsely charged him with aggravated assault."

The case is captioned Bocchino v. City of Atlantic City, et al Federal Case No. 14-cv-00233 and Bocchino's attorney was Timothy J. McIlwain of Linwood.  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 Atlantic City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Bocchino $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.

East Orange confidentially paid out $16,000 to man who said that city police attacked him for no reason and then let him go.

On July 27, 2016, the City of East Orange (Essex County) agreed to pay $16,000 to a man who said that after police hit him in the eye for no reason, they told him "that he should have stayed in Brooklyn."

In his lawsuit, Richard Bennett alleged that he was walking down the street when Officer Damon Johnson and/or Detective Himonshu Antala "without provocation and without warning" hit him in the face with a hard object which knocked him down and caused him to "bleed profusely from his left eye."

After the officers handcuffed Bennett, a Domino's Pizza employee allegedly vouched for Bennett's innocence which convinced the officers to remove Bennett's handcuffs and set him free.  An ambulance was called and Detective Epifenio Mendez and Sergeants Reginald Butts and James W. Pitts arrived on the scene.

Bennett said that the police ran his identification and it came back clean. It was at that time that Bennett told police that he had recently moved to the neighborhood from Brooklyn and that police allegedly responded that he should have stayed there and "should not have come to New Jersey."

Bennett said that the police tried to intimidate him and decided not to file a report of the encounter in order to make it more difficult for him to litigate.

The case is captioned Bennett, et al v City of East Orange, et al Federal Case No. 2:11-cv-00359 and Bennett's attorney was Adana U. Ugwonali of Newark.  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 East Orange or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Bennett $16,000 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.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Camden County confidentially paid out $5,000 of a total of $14,500 to settle man's claim that he was wrongly charged and ejected from a Toby Keith concert.

On August 7, 2016, the County of Camden agreed to pay $5,000 to a Philadelphia man who said that he was wrongfully charged for disorderly conduct and ejected from a June 22, 2013 Toby Keith concert at the Susquehanna Bank Center.

In his lawsuit, Jeremy Dale Bland alleged that after he "completed his task" and returned to his seat, he was seized and assaulted by security personnel from "Live Nation and/or Susquehanna and/or [National Event Services]" while Sheriff's Officer Sharon Grate-Hameen observed and allegedly "failed to intervene and stop the vicious, brutal and unprovoked assault."  He claimed that Grate-Hameen charged him with Disorderly Conduct and assisted in ejecting him from the facility.

The case is captioned Bland, et al v County of Camden, et al Federal Case No. 15-cv-04144 and Bland's attorney was Christopher K. Koutsouris of Forked River.  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 Camden or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Bland $5,000 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.

Stafford Township confidentially paid out $34,000 to settle man's lawsuit claiming that mayor misused Stafford Police to perpetrate a personal vendetta against him.

On June 13, 2016, the Township of Stafford (Ocean County) agreed to pay $34,000 to a man who claimed that Mayor John Spodofora used "the Stafford Police as his personal agents" to retaliate against him for publicly criticizing Spodofora for "stolen valor" (i.e. exaggeration of military service).

In his lawsuit, Earl Galloway, a retired Navy Master Chief, said that after he created a spoof Facebook page called "Spodophony" which contained "accurate information to correct [Spodofora's] exaggerations and fabrications" regarding his service in the Vietnam conflict, Spodofora filed an identify theft charge against him, attempted to block Galloway's membership into the Stafford GOP club and publicly accused him of "hacking into [Spodofora's] child's computer and stealing files."

Galloway's lawsuit also claimed that Stafford police released his phone number, date of birth and social security number to the Asbury Park Press which subsequently published this confidential information.

Also named in the suit was Stafford Police Chief Joseph Giberson.

The case is captioned Galloway v. Stafford, Essex County Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-1146-15 and Galloway's attorneys were Joshua S. Bauchner and Michael H. Ansell of Woodland Park.  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 Stafford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Galloway $34,000 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.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Irvington Township to confidentially pay $10,000 to settle false arrest and malicious prosecution lawsuit.

Police Director Tracy Bowers
On August 1, 2016, Irvington Township (Essex County) produced a draft agreement that calls for $10,000 to be paid to a local man who claimed that he was falsely arrested for crimes including homicide and held under $2,000,000 bail "without a 10% cash alternative."

Richard Etienne's lawsuit give little detail of the events surrounding his arrest.  It discloses only that allegedly "false charges" were brought against Etienne on August 4, 2013 by Irvington Detective Shaun Green and a man named Joseph DeMarco whose relationship to Etienne, Green or Irvington is not disclosed.  Etienne claimed that all the charges brought against him were "terminated favorably" to him.

The case is captioned Etienne v. Irvington Township, Federal Case No. 2:15-cv-08948 and Etienne's attorney was Rhea Moore of East Orange.  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 the Etienne'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 Irvington or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Etienne $10,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the decision to settle 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 settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Note: The court marked the case as having settled.  While it is possible that a dispute will arise prior to the settlement agreement being signed by the Township, this rarely happens because the settlement has been negotiated and agreed to by all the parties.  Readers who wish to be absolutely sure that this case settled according to the terms stated above should submit an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the final, signed settlement agreement.

Palmyra settled suit filed by demoted officer. Officer involuntarily retired and awarded disability retirement benefits.

According to a police officer's June 2, 2014 lawsuit, Palmyra Borough's (Burlington County) decision to demote him from sergeant to patrolman and suspend him without pay for 200 hours "was against the weight of the evidence" and "excessive."  On May 21, 2015, Palmyra settled with the officer and at its February 8, 2016 meeting the Police and Firemen's Retirement System (PFRS) Board granted the patrolman Ordinary Disability retirement benefits after finding that he was "totally and permanently disabled from performing his regular and assigned duties."

According to the hearing officer's report attached to Patrolman Robert Brown's lawsuit, Brown was disciplined for having "incorrectly read the Domestic Violence Central Registry" causing a man who had not been served with a temporary restraining order to be arrested and jailed overnight.  According to a Preliminary Notice of Disciplinary Action appended to Brown's lawsuit, "supervisors are expected to possess the basic skills necessary to read and understand whether a restraining order has been served from the information contained in the Domestic Violence Central Registry."  According to the hearing officer's report, Brown "actively took steps to try to cover his misconduct up" by trying to get a subordinate to alter his report.  The hearing officer noted, however, that while Brown was not charged with engaging in an attempted cover-up, the allegation was still "relevant to the discussion surrounding the appropriate discipline."

In its settlement agreement with Brown, Palmyra allowed him "involuntary retirement effective August 1, 2015" and agreed to pay him $8,809.76 for "371.25 hours of accrued but unused sick leave at 60% of Patrolman Brown's final salary."  The Borough also agreed to provide him with regular health benefits through July 31, 2015 and retiree health benefits for him and his spouse starting on August 1, 2015.  The settlement also called upon both Brown and Palmyra to work together "to effectuate Patrolman Brown's involuntary retirement effective August 1, 2015."

According to the PFRS Board's February 6, 2016 meeting minutes, Brown, who had 23 years 8 months of public service, with 13 of those years in Palmyra, "voted not to impose any forfeiture of pension benefits" because Brown's demotion and suspension constituted sufficient punishment.  The Board voted to approve his disability retirement benefits retroactive to August 1, 2015.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Caldwell Borough paid out $30,000 to settle family's lawsuit over repeated warrantless police "welfare checks."

On July 19, 2016, the Borough of Caldwell (Essex County) agreed to pay $30,000 to a family who complained that Caldwell police repeatedly entered their home to conduct "welfare checks" without warrant or consent on a family member's minor child at the behest of the child's father.

In their lawsuit, Craig DeVito and his wife Provi along with their daughters, son-in-law and two grandsons, who all reside together, claimed that the father of one of the grandsons had on five occasions during a one month period in 2012 had Caldwell Police conduct "welfare checks" on his son.  The father, Joseph Colon of Toms River, was reportedly involved in a custody dispute with Daryen DeVito, one of Craig's and Provi's daughters.

The DeVitos said that they endured the welfare checks "with increasing reluctance" and finally had their lawyer call Caldwell Police Chief James H. Bongiorno and tell him that "and all future police visits would require a court order."  Despite this warning a Caldwell patrol officer allegedly entered the family's home on December 13, 2012 "without knocking or ringing the bell" causing a shocked Provi to tell him to leave.  The officer reportedly explained that "We got a call saying to check on [the grandson] because his father fears something is going on."  According to the lawsuit, the officer didn't leave but called for back up.  This incident caused the family's lawyer to write to Chief Bongiorno threatening legal action if the police again conducted a warrantless welfare check.

Despite the letter, Sergeant Michael Pellegrino came to the DeVito's door on Mother's day to conduct a welfare check on the grandson.  After Pellegrino allegedly said "I don't need [a warrant]," Craig DeVito, who met Pellegrino at the door, pointed to a doormat that that stated in clear, block letters "COME BACK WITH A WARRANT."  This reportedly caused Pellegrino to "snicker" and push Mr. DeVito aside and search the house without anyone's consent.

The case is captioned DeVito, et al v Borough of Caldwell, et al Federal Case No. 13-cv-06786 and the DeVitos' attorney was Ronald J. Brandmayr of Freehold.  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 Caldwell or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the DeVitos $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.

Friday, August 12, 2016

New police chief has two confidential settlements in his past.

A recently installed police chief in Burlington County has two confidential settlement agreements in his past.  One agreement, entered into in 2005, reversed his firing by another Burlington County police agency and paid him $20,000.  The other, entered into in 2006, settled a female police dispatcher's sexual harassment and retaliation claim against the chief and others in exchange for $300,000.

On June 6, 2016, Theodore Budd Wells was installed as police chief in North Hanover Township at an annual salary of $80,000.  According to Wells' resume, he has worked as a police officer in North Hanover since April 2006 and as a Detective Sergeant since April 2015.  Prior to North Hanover, Wells worked as a police officer for Medford Township from 1990 to August of 2004.

According to an April 11, 2005 confidential settlement agreement, Wells had been terminated from his position with Medford on August 16, 2004 due to a "local conviction" on unspecified disciplinary charges.  Wells had appealed his termination in Superior Court and, in order to settle that lawsuit, Medford agreed to regard Wells' separation from employment as a "resignation in good standing," to dismiss all disciplinary charges against him, provide his future prospective employees with a "neutral employment reference" and to pay him $20,000.  Wells had agreed to "keep the terms, amounts and fact of this Agreement completely confidential."  The agreement, which says that it was made "without an admission of liability or wrongdoing by either party" was entered into because of "the cost and uncertainty of litigation."

The second confidential settlement agreement that involved Wells resolved a September 12, 2003 sexual harassment and workplace retaliation lawsuit brought by former Medford Police Dispatcher Nicole Hoffman.  The settlement, approved by the Medford Township Council on January 24, 2006, called for Hoffman to receive $300,000 from Medford and the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office and contained a provision that prohibited Hoffman from divulging "the existence or terms of this Agreement or the negotiations leading to this Agreement, or to further divulge or disclose the allegations in the Complaint or Amended Complaints in this litigation."

In her lawsuit, Hoffman claimed that the police department's "sexually hostile work environment . . . was well known to the management and supervisors of the police force" and that "it was common knowledge that several, but not all, of the officers had engaged in sexual conduct while on duty, and in the police station and in patrol cars."  Hoffman claimed that Wells, then a corporal on the Medford force, "made sexual advances and overtures toward" her and would constantly refer to her as "hottie" or "sexy" instead of her name and told her that "she 'looked good' in her uniform."  Wells allegedly tried to unbutton Hoffman's pants while both were on duty on December 11, 2002.

Hoffman claimed that another superior officer told her she was an "ignorant slut" and he would not set her up for a date because she "did not put out."  Hoffman said that she reported this conduct to Lieutenant Kathleen Jenkins, who served as Medford's internal affairs officer, but nothing was done and that one of her alleged abusers was promoted.  She claimed that then Chief Edwin E. Wood, Captain James Kehoe, Burlington County Assistant Prosecutor James J. Gerrow, Jr. and Executive Assistant Prosecutor Debra Leitenberger failed to follow the New Jersey Attorney General's Internal Affairs Policy and Procedures and instead treated her "as a suspect in a crime" and subjected her to "intimidating interrogation" including having her take a polygraph test. Hoffman's lawsuit claimed that "the real police policy being employed in Burlington County and in Medford Township in particular is to dissuade internal affairs complainants from coming forward with complaints of police misconduct."

Hoffman claimed that on August 26, 2003, Chief Wood and Captain Kehoe read to her what they called a "target letter" from the Prosecutor's office that was addressed to her but, according to Hoffman, was intercepted by Wood, Kehoe and/or others.  She said that she was then given a memo that suspended her "pending subsequent criminal legal actions by the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office relative to the criminal investigation of the December 11, 2002 incident involving Cpl Theodore Wells and yourself."  Hoffman said that there was no basis for any criminal charges against her and that "Gerrow, Leitenberger, Wood, Kehoe and Jensen, all conspired to use the threat of criminal prosecution contained in the target letter to force [her] to give up any claim she had for sexual harassment, and any other claim."

Hoffman's lawsuit's allegations have not been proven and there is no evidence that Chief Wells or anyone else engaged in any wrongdoing.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

$20,000 paid to settle police chief's nephew's claim that the chief assaulted him in fast food parking lot.

According to a November 12, 2014 lawsuit, the chief of police of a small Camden County borough, while in his police uniform and driving an unmarked police vehicle, "forced entry into [a Maple Shade man's] parked vehicle and struck him twice."  According to documents received in response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, the man who the chief allegedly struck received a $20,000 settlement that neither the borough nor its insurer paid. And, according to police reports, the man who filed the lawsuit is the police chief's nephew.

According to a lawsuit filed by the Cherry Hill law firm of Liebling Malamut, LLC, Joseph DiNoto was in his car in the Taco Bell parking lot on Route 73 in Pennsauken on November 19, 2012 when he was struck twice by Merchantville Police Chief Wayne Bauer.  The lawsuit, which named Bauer and the Merchantville Police Department as defendants, claimed that at the time of the alleged assault Bauer "was on duty as a sworn officer of the law, acting in the capacity of Chief of Police" and was dressed as a "uniformed officer of the law driving an unmarked Merchantville Police Department vehicle."

In her July 26, 2016 response to an OPRA request for the settlement agreement that resolved DiNoto's lawsuit, Merchantville Borough Clerk Denise Brouse disclosed an April 8, 2015 letter from Chief Bauer's lawyer, Robert R. Nicodemo, III, confirming "that the matter has been settled for $20,000."  Attached to the letter was a draft form of an agreement which called for DiNoto to release both Bauer and New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company in exchange for the $20,000 payment.  In a note that accompanied the documents, Brouse said that "neither the Borough nor the Borough's insurance company paid any part of this release."

A subsequent OPRA request to Pennsauken Township produced a police report of the incident from which the victim's name, but not Bauer's, was redacted.  According to a narrative report authored by Pennsauken Patrolman Ricardo Figueroa, he was dispatched to the Taco Bell on November 19, 2012 for a report of an assault that came in at 12:55 p.m.  In the lot, he encountered the victim (presumably DiNoto) and his mother.  According to the victim, he and his female cousin, who is Chief Bauer's daughter, had stopped at Taco Bell for lunch.  While in the parking lot, the cousin's phone rang and she began arguing with Bauer, her father, and that Bauer later appeared "at the passenger side door of [the victim's] vehicle taking his daughter out of the car." 

According to the report, Bauer then sat in the recently vacated passenger seat and started arguing with the victim about "something to do with street drugs."  Bauer reportedly "punched [the victim] in the nose twice after yelling at him." Patrolman Figueroa reported observing "a small laceration on the bridge of [the victim's] nose after the EMT's finished cleaning it."  Figueroa spoke with two witnesses and neither of them observed an assault but one did report one of the men "pointing his finger at the other's face."

Other police documents disclose that Bauer visited the Pennsauken Police Department shortly before 2 p.m. on the day of the incident and reported that while in the Taco Bell parking lot, his arm was pulled and somebody "took a swing at him."

DiNoto's allegations in the lawsuit are just that--allegations.  Nothing has been proven and the fact that a $20,000 settlement payment was made does not force a conclusion that Bauer did anything wrong.  

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Toms River Township to confidentially pay $15,000 to settle deaf arrestee's discrimination claim. Township also promises to better accommodate deaf persons going forward.

On August 10, 2016, Toms River Township (Ocean County) produced a draft agreement that calls for $15,000 to be paid to a profoundly deaf man who claims that he was arrested and incarcerated after a traffic stop and refused access to a sign language interpreter who would have helped him communicate with police.  His lawsuit also claimed that Ocean County correction officers failed to provide him with video phone or other device so that he could communicate from jail with his family or attorney.  As part of the settlement, the Township also agreed to change the way it deals with Deaf and Hard of Hearing persons.

In his suit, John Buccieri of South Grafton, Massachusetts said that he was pulled over on December 12, 2012 by Officer Stephen Austin who allegedly became "irate" and "aggressive" when Buccieri "exit[ed] the vehicle so he could understand why he was given a ticket."  Buccieri claimed that Austin arrested him for resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer and that "all requests for a sign language interpreter were ignored."

Buccieri claimed that officials at the Ocean County Department of Corrections also refused him an interpreter and access to "a videophone or any way for [him] to communicate with the outside world."  He also claimed that he was given a medical exam and an injection without explanation or his informed consent.

As part of the settlement, Toms River also will sign off on a Consent Agreement that will require the Township's police department to post signs and to better accommodate Deaf and Hard of Hearing Individuals they encounter in the future.  The draft Consent Agreement is included among the documents at the link below.

The case is captioned Buccieri v. Toms River Township, Federal Case No. 3:14-cv-04484 and Buccieri's attorney was Clara R. Smit of East Brunswick.  Case documents are on-line here.  The $15,000 settles Buccieri's claims only against Toms River.  An Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request has been submitted to Ocean County for its separate settlement agreement and this article will be updated upon receipt.

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 the Buccieri'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 Toms River or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Buccieri $15,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the decision to settle 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 settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Note: The court marked the case as having settled.  While it is possible that a dispute will arise prior to the settlement agreement being signed by the Township, this rarely happens because the settlement has been negotiated and agreed to by all the parties.  Readers who wish to be absolutely sure that this case settled according to the terms stated above should submit an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the final, signed settlement agreement.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Mantua Township paid out $25,000 to settle claim of man who said that he was issued retaliatory drunk and reckless driving tickets.

On July 12, 2016, the Township of Mantua (Gloucester County) agreed to pay a naturalized citizen originally from Palestine $25,000 to settle his claim that Township officers retaliated against him by charging him with drunk driving because he had attempted to speak to Mantua Police Chief Rodney Sawyer about the unprofessional manner in which officers treated him during a July 5, 2013 traffic stop.

In his lawsuit, Edward Habayeb said that he was pulled over by Corporal Shaun Butler after having crossed the center line to avoid hitting garbage cans that were in the roadway.  Habayeb said that he had a single beer six hours before but had no odor of alcohol on his breath. He said that Butler conducted himself in a profane, insulting and abusive manner.

Butler was allegedly suspicious and decided to pursue the drunk driving investigation. He had Officer Krista Shields conduct her first ever field sobriety test on Habayeb even though "no one had ever shown her how to conduct such a test."  Shields' allegedly failed to conduct the tests properly.

According to the lawsuit, Officer Brian Hauss conducted an Alcotest test which Habayeb allegedly aced with a 0.00% reading.  Butler issued him two summonses, one for failure to maintain a lane and the other for improper signaling.

Habayeb set up a July 8, 2016 meeting with Chief Sawyer "to discuss the unprofessional manner in which he was treated by the [officers]."  Chief Sawyer cancelled the meeting and on the next day, July 9, 2016, Shields reportedly sent Habayeb two additional summons in the mail.  One of the summonses was for Reckless Driving and the other was for Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Drugs.  Habayeb claimed that these summonses were issued to retaliate against him for attempting to meet with Chief Sawyer.  According to the lawsuit, both of the latter summonses were dismissed by the municipal prosecutor.

The case is captioned Habayeb v. Butler, et al, Federal Case No. 15-cv-05107 and Habayeb's attorney was Richard M. Flynn of Gloucester City.  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 Mantua or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Habayeb $25,000 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.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Newark City confidentially paid out $380,000 to settle former official's wrongful termination lawsuit.

Mayor Ras J. Baraka
On April 15, 2016, the City of Newark (Essex County) agreed to pay its former Emergency Management Coordinator $380,000 to settle his claim that he was terminated for political reasons

In his lawsuit, Keith Isaac said that he was appointed to his first 3-year term as Emergency Management Coordinator on August 17, 2007 by former Newark Mayor Cory Booker who reappointed him to a second 3-year term.  On August 18, 2013, he was reappointed to an abbreviated term by then Mayor Luis Quintana who later extended the term to a full three years that was set to expire on August 17, 2016.  He claimed that Mayor Ras J. Baraka, contrary to statute, removed him from his position on July 11, 2014.

State law allows only the governor, not a mayor, to remove an Emergency Management Coordinator.  According to Isaac's lawsuit, this law exists "to depoliticize and insure continuity in this highly sensitive position."

According to the settlement agreement, Newark is to pay Isaac two installments of $190,000, the first being due sixty days after settlement and the final installment being due on January 31, 2017.  According to a June 23 2016 motion filed by Isaac but later withdrawn, Newark failed to pay him the first installment in a timely manner. 

On June 17, 2015, Isaac offered Newark an opportunity to resolve the matter for $290,000 but the City apparently opted to settle for $90,000 more less than a year after the offer was made.

The case is captioned Isaac v. Newark, Essex County Superior Court Docket No. ESX-L-1467-15 and Isaac's attorney was Colin M. Page of Roseland.  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 Newark or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Isaac $380,000 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.