Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Linden and Roselle together paid out $35,833.34 to settle a lawsuit filed by woman who claimed police excessive force.

On October 12, 2017, the final signature was affixed to a settlement agreement under which the City of Linden and the Borough of Roselle (both in Union County) agreed to pay $35,833.34 to a Roselle Park woman who said that City and Borough police applied excessive force upon her.  Of the total, $21,666.66 was paid by Roselle and $14,166.68 was paid by Linden.

In their lawsuit, Elizabeth Drada and David Vega (Vega withdrew from the lawsuit on October 6, 2017) said that on November 17, 2013, they, along with Emanuel Rivera, left a Wood Avenue, Roselle bar and restaurant at about 11:30 p.m. after Vega "was asked to leave the bar by security despite the lack of any altercation or fight."  Drada and Vega said that they were "profiled" by security as "potential troublemakers" because of their Hispanic origin and because Rivera had a tattoo on the side of his neck that contained the word "King."

Drada and Vega said that they were walking toward their car, which was several blocks away, without being disorderly or aggressive when several police officers followed them and "began to verbally harass and abuse" them.  The officers allegedly said to them things such as "get out of here" and "don't come back here" and falsely stated in a police report that Drada and Vega acted in a disorderly manner.  One of the officers allegedly assumed that Drada, Vega and Rivera were gang members after seeing Rivera's tattoo.

For an unexplained reason, Rivera reportedly took off his shirt and Drada said that she was grabbed by the officers when she attempted to get Rivera to put his shirt back on.  At this point, Rivera, in an effort to protect Drada, allegedly "reach[ed] for [Drada] but ends up hitting a [police officer] in error."  Vega, who said that he was attempting to video record the altercation on his phone, said that one of the officers "smacked [the  phone] out of his hand" and confiscated it.  Meanwhile, Drada said that she was handcuffed and thrown to the ground so hard that she fractured her ankle. Drada said that after being searched by Odom, a female officer, Odom and another officer "picked her off the ground, flipping her into the car onto her stomach and twisting her ankle, compounding the injury." 

Drada said that she spent about eleven hours in a cell at the Roselle police station.  She said that Sergeant Barnes refused her repeated requests for medical assistance.  She said that she was made to hop on one foot in order to be fingerprinted and that a female officer eventually obtained an ambulance for her.  She said that the disorderly conduct and resisting arrest charges were dismissed when she entered a guilty plea to the municipal noise ordinance.

While the pair could not identify the officers at the scene, they said that they later learned that the Roselle officers who where at the scene and/or at the station were Sergeant Williams (presumably Stacey L. Williams), Sergeant Brian Barnes, Officer William Lord and Officer Odom (presumably Jaclyn R. Odom) and that the Linden Officers were James Edgar, P. Kudlac (presumably Patrik Kudlac), Mohr (presumably Jason Mohr) and Jedrezejewski (presumably Martin Jedrzejewski).

Also named as defendants were Roselle Police Chief Gerard Orlando and Linden Police Chief James M. Schulhafer. 

The case is captioned the Elizabeth Drada, et al v. Borough of Roselle, et al,  Federal Case No. 2:15-cv-08052 and Drada's attorney was Shelley L. Stangler of Springfield. Case documents are on-line here.

None of the the lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing anyone.  All that is known for sure is that Linden and Roselle or their insurers, for whatever reason, decided to pay Drada $35,833.34 rather 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, November 15, 2017

Pennsauken school board paid out $500,000 to settle lawsuit filed by high school student who was slashed across her face on the school bus.

On June 15, 2017, the Pennsauken Board of Education (Camden County) agreed to pay $500,000 to a high school student who claimed that another student slashed her "across her face with a bladed weapon" on June 19, 2014 while she was on her school bus waiting to be taken home.  The alleged slasher, who also claimed damages in the suit, appeared to receive nothing.

In her suit, the female high school student identified only by her initials D.O. said that school officials were aware of the slasher's violent tendencies because the same assailant attacked her on school property two weeks earlier and that school officials had a video recording of that attack.  D.O. claimed that school officials ignored her "repeated pleas for protection."

According to a January 15, 2016 Courier Post article, D.O.'s accused attacker, identified in court papers by her initials S.C.A., sought damages from the school district because she claimed "she was the victim of unchecked bullying."  According to the article, S.C.A. claimed that D.O. was a “ringleader” for bullies who had targeted S.C.A.  While the redactions make it impossible to tell for sure, a July 17, 2017 release shows that someone--probably S.C.A.--released her claims in exchange for no payment.

Principal Tameka Matthews and Assistant Principal Thomas Honeyman were named as defendants in the lawsuit.

The case is captioned D.O. a minor by her guardian at litem, M.O. v. Pennsauken High School, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-361-15 and D.O.'s attorney was Norman M. Hobbie of Eatontown.  Case documents are on-line here

None of D.O.'s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. All that is known for sure is that the Pennsauken school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the girl $500,000 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.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Evesham confidentially settled with fired cop.

On October 24, 2017, the Township of Evesham (Burlington County) agreed to allow a police officer who was fired effective November 8, 2016 to resign in lieu of being terminated  The agreement also allowed the former officer to keep $30,135.82 that the Township said the officer received while she was suspended.

According to her complaint, Officer Kathleen A. Portella was suspended with pay on November 8, 2016 after having been served with a Preliminary Notice of Disciplinary Action (PNDA). She was served with another PNDA on January 9, 2017. After four Department Level Hearings held in February and March 2017, she was issued a Final Notice of Disciplinary Action on July 21, 2017 which, according to Portella 's lawsuit, caused her to be terminated effective November 8, 2016.  Her lawsuit sought a Superior Court judge's review of the disciplinary matter and reinstatement to her job with back pay and seniority rights. 

Evesham Township contested Portella's suit and, in a counterclaim, sought to recover from her $30,135.82 it said it paid Portella between November 8, 2016 and July 21, 2017.

In the October 24, 2017 confidential agreement, both parties agreed that in lieu of being fired, Portella would be allowed to resign effective July 21, 2017 and keep the $30,135.82 that was paid to her during her suspension. As part of the settlement, Portella agreed to "not seek reemployment with Township in any capacity."

Nothing in any of the available paperwork explains the nature of the conduct that caused Portella to be fired.

According to a November 6, 2017 letter from the Township, Portella began her employment with Evesham on September 13, 2015 and was making $53,500 per year in 2017. 1

Both the Township and Portella agreed to keep the settlement "confidential to the maximum extent permitted by law." Fortunately, such confidentiality agreements are trumped by the public's right to know under the Open Public Records Act.

The complaint, counterclaim and settlement agreement, are online here. Portella was represented by Stuart J. Alterman of Marlton and the Township was represented by Elizabeth M. Garcia of Mount Laurel.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Brooklawn school board paid out $100,000 to settle a fourth grader's claim that she was incessantly bullied and denied access to her anti-anxiety meds.

On September 20, 2017, a judge approved a $100,000 settlement for a fourth grade girl who said that she was bullied so severely by other students that she was prescribed anti-anxiety medication that the school nurse refused to give her.  Her anxiety became so severe, her suit alleges, that she attempted to harm herself landing her in a crisis center.  The girl had attended the Alice Costello School which is operated by the Brooklawn (Camden County) Board of Education.

In her suit, the female student identified only by her initials J.R., said that in 2012, when she was a fourth grader at the Alice Costello School in 2012, three other students, also identified only by their initials, called her "a 'slut, 'bitch,' and 'f***ing whore' at least several times a week during [her] entire forth grade year."  According to the lawsuit, the girl's mother complained to her daughter's teacher who in turn relayed the complaint to former Superintendent John Kellmayer who allegedly "did not do anything to prevent the harassment."

By the time she entered the fifth grade, the alleged harassment by the three students worsened.  They allegedly added the terms "ugly" and "mother f***er" to their list of insults and starting slapping J.R. hard enough to make her fall to the ground.  The suit claims that the girl's gym teacher would not take her out of class so that she could be away from two of the harassers.

During fifth grade, J.R. said that her three tormentors took her to a secluded area of the playground and slapped her, punched her and kicked her in the groin.  They allegedly lifted her up and dropped her causing "causing significant bruising on her back and her knee."  Again, Kellmayer allegedly did nothing to stop the abuse and reportedly refused to meet with the girl's mother to discuss it.

The alleged harassment caused J.R. to take anti-anxiety medication that were, according to the lawsuit, to be administered by school nurse Jill Tourtual "whenever [J.R.] started to feel symptoms of her anxiety."  Tourtual allegedly refused to give J.R. her anxiety medication because she felt that J.R. "was using the anxiety pills as a 'crutch" and that her anxiety was not real and she was simply looking for attention."  Tourtual also reportedly told J.R. that she did not want her to become a "pill popper."

J.R. said that after being refused her medication, she became so anxious that "she would simply go into the bathroom by herself and cry."  J.R. claimed that in March 2014, her anxiety became so bad that she told Tourtual that "if she did not receive her medication she was going to harm herself."  According to the lawsuit, Tourtual continued to refuse J.R. her medication causing her to attempt to harm herself and require admission to a crisis center.

The case is captioned J.R. by her parent and guardian J.R. v. Brooklawn Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-4761-14 and Smith's attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel.  Case documents are on-line here

According to a September 20, 2017 court order entered by Superior Court Judge Michael J. Kassel, J.R. and the school district resolved their claims for a a $100,000 settlement.  From that amount $49,745.91 was paid to J.R.'s attorney for costs and attorney fees.  The remainder was deposited with the Camden County Surrogate to be put in trust for her.

None of J.R.'s allegations have been proven or disproven in court. All that is known for sure is that the Brooklawn school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the girl $100,000 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.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Sussex County confidentially paid out $1 (plus $15,000 in legal fees) to settle Social Services Administrator's hostile work environment lawsuit.

On March 9, 2017, the County of Sussex quietly paid a total of $15,001 to settle a 2015 lawsuit filed by the County's Administrator of the Division of Social Services who claimed that she was passed over for promotion and retaliated against for "advocating on behalf of a non-competent patient."

In her lawsuit, Carol Novrit said that she authored a January 13, 2015 letter that urged the Newton Memorial Hospital to not release a woman into her husband's care "because he was incapable of that care."  The letter, which allegedly caused the hospital to go "ballistic," also caused then Human Services Administrator Stephen Gruchacz to allegedly become extreme angry and to create a hostile work environment for Novrit.  When Gruchacz became County Administrator in July 2015, he allegedly passed over Novrit for the now vacant Human Services Administrator position and instead awarded the position to "a less-qualified individual with less experience."  Novrit claimed that the hostility against her also caused her to lose out on an appointment to the County Administrator position.

Novrit claimed that Gruchacz's elevation to County Administrator was approved by Freeholders Dennis J. Mudrick, Phillip R. Crabb and Richard A. Vohden because they felt that Gruchacz could insulate them from what Novrit called "widespread criticism" for the three Freeholders' support of a settlement agreement involving a solar contract.  Novrit alleged that her hostile work environment "was controlled" by former County Counsel Dennis McConnell until his retirement in 2015.  According to Novrit, McConnell's replacement, John Williams, "continued the hostile work environment, told [Novrit] she was suffering from anxiety, criticized her for 'shoving her resume in his face' and further stated, 'I thought there was something about you.'"

Also named in the lawsuit was former County Administrator John Eskilson.

The County's unwillingness to release this settlement is illustrated by a March 9, 2017 New Jersey Herald editorial entitled "Lawsuit settled? Or not? The answer is pending."

The case is captioned Novrit v. Sussex County Freeholder Dennis J. Mudrick, et al, Sussex County Superior Court Docket No. SSX-L-486-15 and the Novrit's attorney was George T. Daggett of Sparta.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement's terms to others, including the media.  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 the 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 Sussex or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Novrit $15,001 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, October 20, 2017

Weehawken confidentially paid out $75,000 to settle senior woman's police brutality lawsuit.

Update:  The Hudson County Prosecutor, in response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request, disclosed on October 26, 2017 that Officer Robert Jacobson, who was charged with aggravated assault on October 27, 1999, was admitted into the Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI) on April 6, 2001 and successfully completed that diversionary program.  Click here for the Prosecutor's response.

Update: As of November 1, 2017, Officer Robert Jacobson is still employed by Weehawken as a patrolman at an annual salary of $115,327.  He was hired by Weehawken on January 17, 1995.
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On August 31, 2017, the Township of Weehawken (Hudson County) quietly agreed to pay $75,000 to a then 65-year old woman who said she was repeatedly struck, beaten and choked by a Township police officer.  Notably, the officer himself agreed to pay $5,000 toward the settlement.

In her lawsuit, Maria Tullo claimed that at about 8 a.m. on April 25, 2014 she was in her Maple Street home when police officer Robert Jacobson came onto her property and called her a "bitch" and a "Guinea c**t" and told her to "go back to your country."  According to the suit, Jacobson beat and choked Tullo which caused neighbors to call police when they heard her cries for help. Sergeant Hablitz (presumably Sergeant Conrad S. Hablitz) and Officers Christopher Majewski, Randy Hablitz and Edward Vion responded to the scene and reportedly, along with Officer James White, conspired to falsely charge Tullo with harassment.

Tullo alleged that she had previously tried four times to complain to police officials about Officer Jacobson but was each time turned away.  She said that the police department's refusal to take her complaints "empowered" Jacobson and contributed to his misconduct.  She alleged that the harassment complaint against her was ultimately dismissed.

Tullo also alleged that Jacobson was indicted in or about February 2000 for "a similar physical and brutal attack of a civilian." An Internet search revealed a February 29, 2000 article in the Hudson Reporter titled "Police Officer indicted on four counts of assault, weapon charges"  According to the article, these charges were filed against a Weehawken police officer named Robert Jacobson (presumably the same one who was the subject of Tullo's lawsuit) and arose out of an October 1999 fight at a Weehawken bar called Gennaro's.  The fight was between Jacobson, then 24, and a 58-year-old bar patron and reportedly arose out of heated words about a college football game and military service. According to the article, Jacobson hit the man with a beer bottle and the man required 40 stitches to repair his wounds.  Jacobson was reportedly intoxicated and fled the scene.

The case is captioned Tullo, et al v. Township of Weehawken, et al, Federal Case No. 2:16-cv-00348 and the Tullo's attorney was Jacqueline Ramirez of Fort Lee.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement called for $70,000 to be paid by the Township's insurer and the other $5,000 to be paid by Robert Jacobson personally.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement's terms to others, including the media.  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 the 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 Weehawken's insurer and Jacobson, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Tullo $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.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Linden confidentially paid out $575,000 to settle a lawsuit by two men who claimed harm by a municipal judge who "evoked the specter of the backwater 'judge, jury and executioner' figure."

On April 12, 2017, the City of Linden (Union County) quietly agreed to pay $575,000 to two Elizabeth men who claimed that the Linden Municipal Judge's illegal sentences deprived them of due process and caused them to spend "approximately sixty (60) days more in jail than was permissible by law."

In their lawsuit, Wendell and Anthony Kirkland said that on April 12, 2010 they appeared before Linden Municipal Court Judge Louis M. J. DiLeo to be arraigned on charges arising out of their 2009 arrest for possession of 50 grams or less of marijuana and for stealing five lug nuts as well as the wheel to which the lug nuts were attached.  During the arraignment, the cousins said that they wanted to retain a private counsel to represent them.  According to the lawsuit, DiLeo "erroneously advised [them] that by electing to retain private counsel, they had 'waived' their rights to to appointment of a public defender."

At a May 3, 2010  court hearing, the Kirklands, who apparently were not able to secure private lawyers, said that they wanted to be represented by the public defender.  DiLeo allegedly told them that they were not permitted to be represented by the public defender because they had already "waived" that right.  DiLeo then allegedly told the pair that they needed to proceed to trial on May 12, 2010.

After waiting four hours for their trial on May 12, 2010, the Kirklands said that "there was no defense counsel or municipal prosecutor present" and that the only people participating in the trial were the Kirklands, the arresting police officer and Judge DiLeo.  DiLeo allegedly conducted the direct examination of the officer (who allegedly did not enter the marijuana or the lab reports into evidence) and the Kirklands were given an opportunity to cross-examine the officer.  DiLeo then asked the Kirklands if they had witnesses and the Kirklands said that they did have witnesses but that none of them were present.  DiLeo, who allegedly refused an adjournment so that the witnesses could be called in to testify, allowed the Kirklands to testify on their own behalf and then be cross-examined by the police officer.  After the officer's cross-examination, DiLeo reportedly questioned both the Kirklands and the officer.

At the conclusion of the 52-minute trial, DiLeo found the Kirklands guilty of all charges, including the marijuana possessory charge for which no evidence was reportedly submitted.  DiLeo then immediately sentenced Wendell Kirkland to 180 days in the Union County Jail, three consecutive one-year probationary terms and a $2,700 fine exclusive of statutory penalties and costs.  He sentenced Anthony Kirkland to two consecutive 180-day jail terms, three consecutive one-year probationary terms and a $3,100 fine exclusive of statutory penalties and costs.

According to the complaint, the Kirklands' sentences were illegal because N.J.S.A. 2C:43-2(b) only permits 90-day terms to be imposed as a condition of probation.  The men argue that the illegal sentences caused them to spend sixty days in jail beyond what the law allowed.

Union County Superior Court Judge Scott J. Moynihan heard the Kirklands' appeal.  According to the lawsuit, Moynihan characterized DiLeo's handling of the matter as a "'perversion of justice' and cited multiple instances in which DiLeo violated the [Kirkland's] constitutional rights" including the "most glaring error" of denying the Kirklands' request for a public defender.  Moynihan "concluded that Judge DiLeo had “transformed the role of the court from a neutral and detached magistrate and evoked the specter of the backwater ‘judge, jury and executioner’ figure that has never had any place in American jurisprudence.” He ultimately found both men not guilty of the marijuana charges and remanded the remaining charges to municipal court to be heard before a different judge.

The complaint alleged that the Kirklands' treatment by DiLeo was not an aberration but "a long standing custom" that developed during DiLeo's nine years on the bench.  The complaint alleges that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) once stepped in because of DiLeo's conduct on the bench.

According to a January 27, 2014 article in NJ Advance Media, DiLeo was reprimanded by the New Jersey Supreme Court for his treatment of the Kirklands. The Court's 42-page decision is on-line here.

The case is captioned the Wendell Kirkland and Anthony Kirkland v. Louis M. J. DiLeo, et al, Federal Case No. 2:2012-cv-01196 and the the Kirklands' attorney was Michael R. Rubas of Jersey City.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement's terms to others, including the media.  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 the lawsuit's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by DiLeo.  All that is known for sure is that Linden or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Kirklands $575,000 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, October 4, 2017

Medford Township confidentially paid out $150,000 to settle cop's racial discrimination lawsuit.

On September 22, 2017, the Township of Medford (Burlington County) quietly agreed to pay $150,000 to a black officer who sued the Township's police department for racial discrimination in 2014.

In his lawsuit, Mark K. Hunsinger, who has worked for the Medford Police Department since 1999, claimed that the police officials discriminated against him based on his race by repeatedly passing him over for promotions, training opportunities and placement on the SWAT team.  Hunsinger also claimed that there was a hostile racial culture within the police department.  His lawsuit specifically names Corporal Robert Zane and alleges that Zane referred to an Italian as a "ginny and wop" and an Asian as "slant eyed."  Zane is alleged to have repeatedly referred to the Township of Maple Shade as "Maple Spade."  Hunsinger claimed that other Medford officers "commonly refer to blacks as animals and gorillas" and referred to another patrolman as a "sand ni**er."

The case is captioned Hunsinger, et al v. Medford Township Corrections, et al, Docket No. BUR-L-2804-14 and the Hunsinger's first attorney was Anthony F. DiMento of Cherry Hill.  He then replaced DiMento with Douglas M. Long of Woodbury.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement's terms to others, including the media.  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 the 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 Medford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Hunsinger $150,000 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.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Elizabeth paid out $97,500 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On June 27, 2017, the Elizabeth City Council (Union County) agreed to to pay $97,500 to settle a lawsuit filed a local man who claimed that he was unlawfully arrested and had excessive force applied upon him during his August 26, 2010 arrest.

Yohan Pichardo's lawsuit is short on specific allegations.  It states only that Elizabeth police officer Bernard Alvarez arrested him with excessive force on August 26, 2010 and that the resisting arrest and disorderly conduct charges against him were later dismissed.

The case is captioned Pichardo v. Alvarez, et al, Federal Case No. 2:11-cv-04955 and the Pichardo's attorney was Joel I Rachmiel of Springfield.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Pichardo's allegations have been proven or disproven in court and settlement, without more, does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by Elizabeth or any of its officials. All that is known for sure is that Elizabeth or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Pichardo $97,500 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.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Paterson paid $60,350 to convicted man to resolve police excessive force lawsuit.

On January 9, 2017, the City of Paterson (Passaic County) agreed to pay $60,350 to a man who said that city police beat him with batons and flashlights after he was already lying handcuffed on the ground. The man, who agreed to serve four years in prison to resolve aggravated assault, burglary, resisting arrest and obstruction charges that were filed against him as a result of the same incident, claimed that treatment of the alleged police beating required "at least fifteen medical staples in the head and stitches on his right elbow."

The plaintiff in the lawsuit is Jose A. Colon who, according to a complaint-warrant filed against him, committed aggravated assault by trying to strike police officer Anthony Castronova "with his 2000 Dodge Caravan while leaving the scene of a car burglary" on March 17, 2010.  According to the complaint-warrant and an indictment, Colon also was charged with resisting arrest, obstruction of the administration of law, burglary, theft and receiving stolen property.  He entered into a plea agreement and was sentenced to four years in prison with a requirement that 85% of the term be served before release on parole.

According to Colon's lawsuit, Castranova along with officers Terrence Duffy and Kevin Matos chased him on foot after he exited a vehicle that "allegedly collided with a police vehicle and then another vehicle."  According to the lawsuit, after Colon "was lying on the ground and handcuffed, he was beaten
several times by [police] on his head, hand and other parts of his body with police batons and flashlights [and] was then dragged approximately fifty feet to a police car, before being taken to the emergency room at St. Joseph's hospital."

According to Use of Force Reports filed by the officers, Matos reported that he had put Colon in a "compliance hold" while Castronova reported that he struck Colon "with baton or other object."  Matos reported that Colon was injuried and taken to the hospital while Castronova reported that Colon was not injured and was not taken to the hospital.

The case is captioned Colon v. City of Paterson, et al, Federal Case No. 2:12-cv-0165 and Colon's attorney was Lawrence C. Hersh of Rutherford.  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 Paterson or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Colon $60,350 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 23, 2017

State paid out $30,000 to settle lawsuit filed by lawyer who claimed she was arrested for not answering Trooper's questions.

On July 6, 2017, the State of New Jersey paid $30,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a Philadelphia attorney who said she was arrested for exercising her constitutional right to remain silent.

In her complaint, Rebecca Musarra claimed that she ignored State Trooper Matthew Stazzone's questions during an October 16, 2015 traffic stop in rural Warren County.  Stazzone allegedly told Musarra, "If you don't answer my questions, I am going to arrest you."  Musarra said that she told Stazzone that she was an attorney and knew that she had a right to not respond to questions. According to the lawsuit, Stazzone then ordered her out of the car, handcuffed her and drove her to the police station where she was placed in a holding cell and chained to a bench.  While in the cell, Musarra said that Stazzone and another trooper asked her "biographical questions" which she refused to answer.

About a half hour later, a supervisor reportedly spoke with Musarra and told her that refusing to answer police questions constituted obstruction.  Musarra said that she told the supervisor that his argument was wrong under both federal and state law.  Some time later, the supervisor reportedly explained that Stazzone was a "rookie" and that "we'll mark it up to training."  According to the suit, the supervisor later apologized for Stazzone and told Musarra that he would do her a "favor" and try to get her car released from the impound lot without fees.

A May 6, 2016 newspaper article contains a video of the traffic stop.

The case is captioned Musarra, v. State of New Jersey, Federal Case No. 3:16-cv-0485 and Musarra's attorney was Kevin M. Costello of Mount Laurel.  The complaint and and the release are on-line here.

None of the Musarra'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 the State or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Musarra $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.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Tuckerton confidentially paid $8,225.36 and forgave a $16,774.64 debt to settle indicted police officer's federal civil rights lawsuit.

On June 5, 2017, the Borough of Tuckerton (Ocean County) quietly paid $8,225.36 to settle a lawsuit brought by a suspended Borough police officer who was indicted on January 13, 2015 for allegedly causing his K-9 canine "Gunner" attack a 58-year-old female motorist on January 29, 2014 and then falsifying an arrest record to cover his actions.  Under the terms of the settlement, Tuckerton also agreed to forgive $16,774.64 in health premiums that the Borough said the officer owed and also gave full ownership of Gunner to the officer.

Tuckerton officer Justin M. Cherry filed two lawsuits against the Borough--one each in federal and state court.  In both complaints, Cherry claimed that he was deprived of some training opportunities and that when he complained he was met with "demeaning and harassing" conduct by Chief Michael Caputo.  Cherry said Caputo's harassment was retaliatory and that Caputo "has been determined to terminate [Cherry's] employment by any means."  Caputo's alleged harassment consisted of refusing to compensate Cherry for his "at home" care of Gunner and accusing Cherry of hacking Caputo's e-mails. 

Cherry's most serious allegation, however, was that Caputo conspired with Sergeant Christopher Anderson "to fabricate allegations" about the January 29, 2014 incident underlying Cherry's indictment "in order to achieve a termination of [Cherry's] employment."  Cherry claimed that Borough officials intentionally sent notice of a meeting at which his employment would be discussed to the wrong address in order to deprive him of his right to attend that meeting. Cherry was suspended with pay on February 4, 2014 and without pay on April 9, 2014--the same day he was arrested by the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office.

In an October 17, 2016 Opinion, United States District Judge Brian R. Martinotti dismissed the bulk of Cherry's federal lawsuit and a July 8, 2016 Order by Ocean County Superior Court Judge James Den Uyl stayed the state court action.

The cases are both captioned Cherry, v. Borough of Tuckerton, et al, and bear Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-293-16 and Federal Case No. 3:16-cv-00505 and Cherry' attorney was Tracy L. Riley of Mount Holly.  Cherry's wife, Michele, was a plaintiff in both lawsuits.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement amount and 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 Cherry'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 Tuckerton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Cherry $8,225.36 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.

Pennsville paid out $20,000 to settle former employee's age discrimination lawsuit.

On April 24, 2017, the Township of Pennsville (Salem County) paid $20,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former employee who claimed that Township officials refused to provide him with retirement benefits on account of his age.

In his complaint, Keith Lamb claimed that upon his retirement at age 42 after having been on the job for more than 20 years, Pennsville refused to provide him with health insurance, life insurance and payment for unused sick time even though the Township Code entitled him to these benefits.  According to the lawsuit, Lamb filed a grievance regarding these benefits but the Township did not respond.  He claimed that "the Township of Pennsville unlawfully discriminated against [him] because of his age and years of service with the Township."

According to an August 23, 2013 newspaper article, Lamb was employed by Pennsville as a water treatment supervisor.  In addition to the $20,000 payment, the Township also agreed to reinstate Lamb's retirement benefits.

The case is captioned Lamb, v. Township of Pennsville, Superior Court Docket No. SLM-L-85-16 and Lamb's attorney was Jacob M. Chiarello of Millville.  The complaint and and the release are on-line here.

None of the Lamb' 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 Pennsville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lamb $20,000 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.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Paterson school board paid out $45,000 to settle former teacher's hostile work environment lawsuit.

On May 23, 2017, the Paterson Board of Education (Passaic County) obtained a court order establishing $45,000 as the settlement amount needed to resolve a lawsuit filed by an African-American teacher who said that her contract was not renewed because of her race and because she reported "valid concerns of harassment, nepotism and hostile work environment."

In her suit, Rosalynd Smith, a former special education teacher at the Alexander Hamilton Academy, claimed that she went above and beyond by "organizing an entire literacy program" to assist a second-grade student who was labeled as a "non-reader."  Smith claimed that Principal Virginia Galizia, in order to "reduce costs for the Academy" told her to stop giving the student specialized services which resulted in the student being unable to comprehend his lessons and the student's mother becoming "very upset."  Smith claimed that the mother's complaints to school administrators caused Galizia and other teachers to treat her differently.

Smith claimed that Galizia stripped her of her duties, belittled her in front of students and gave her unfairly negative evaluations.  Shortly after she filed a complaint with the District's Affirmative Action officer on April 29, 2013, Smith claimed that she was given a non-renewal letter that terminated her employment.  She claimed that she unable to contest her dismissal administratively because her prior attorney filed her appeal months after it was due and then "forged her name to various documents so [that she] would not learn of the late filing."

The case is captioned Smith v. Paterson Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. PAS-L-1742-15 and Smith's attorney was Gina Mendola Longarzo of Chatham.  Case documents are on-line here.

According to filed paperwork, Smith was not represented by Longarzo or any other attorney during the lawsuit's final stages.  The Board filed a motion to enforce a $45,000 settlement.  On May 23, 2017, Judge  Liliana DeAvila-Silebi and ordered the Board to pay $45,000 to Smith and for Smith to release the Board from further responsibility upon receipt of that payment.  The court also ordered that a separate matter that Smith brought against the Board in the Office of Administrative Law would also be resolved by the $45,000 payment.

None of Smith'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 the Paterson school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Smith $45,000 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.

Burlington County confidentially paid out $10,000 to female jail nurse who claimed "pelvic grinding" by male employee.

On May 26, 2017, the County of Burlington quietly agreed to pay $10,000 to nurse at the County Correctional Center who claimed that a male employee "grinded his pelvic region into [her] behind" and then other employees created a hostile work environment for her after she reported the incident to police.

In her complaint, Adrian Rodriquez, who worked for Corizon Health of New Jersey, LLC (Corizon is apparently a private contractor who provides health related services to the Burlington County Corrections Department) said that Officer Markey Hayes came up behind her, picked her up and put her back on the ground.  While doing so, Hayes allegedly "grinded his pelvic region into [her] behind" such that she could "feel Officer Hayes' erect penis."  Hayes allegedly rubbed his penis against her again on March 17, 2012. 

Rodriquez said that she reported Hayes to the police and to her supervisors.  After making these reports, Rodriquez claimed that other employees became hostile and told her that she was no longer trusted as a nurse.  She claimed that other officers would taunt her by telling her "yo babe, I'm taking my clothes off for you, can you see me?"  She said that the stress from the hostility caused her to seek medical treatment and made it difficult for her to sleep and eat.  She said that the treatment she received forced her to resign on September 13, 2012.

Burlington County's share of the settlement was $10,000.  Corizon was also named as a defendant and may have also settled with Rodriguez.  A "Settlement Term Sheet" that Burlington included in its response to the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request that caused disclosure of the settlement states that the total settlement was $25,000.  Accordingly, it appears that Corizon contributed $15,000 toward the settlement with the County contributing $10,000.  The "Settlement Term Sheet" is available at the link below.

The case is captioned Rodriquez, et al v. Burlington County Corrections, et al, Docket No. BUR-L-631-14 and the Rodriquez's was Mark D. Laderman of Trenton.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement's terms to others, including the media.  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 the 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 Burlington or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Rodriquez $10,000 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.

Berlin paid out $2,500 to settle man's malicious prosecution lawsuit.

On April 20, 2017, the Borough of Berlin (Camden County) paid $2,500 to settle a lawsuit filed by a Sicklerville man who claimed that Borough police arrested him and issued several summonses to retaliate against him for previously filing a lawsuit against them.

In his complaint, John Kleinberg claimed that after he filed a federal lawsuit against police officer Darren Lomonaco and other officers, he was arrested and imprisoned for five days for allegedly writing to his ex-wife, in violation of a restraining order, seeking emancipation of their son.  The lawsuit, which does not specifically allege that Lomonaco or any other Berlin officer caused the arrest to occur, claims that Kleinberg was ultimately found not guilty of the restraining order violation charge. 

Kleinberg also claimed that Lomonaco, who appears to have been Kleinberg's neighbor, confronted him "for having a new roommate" after which Lomonaco and his fellow officers caused summonses to issue against him for failing to fix a window on his property, driving without a license, failure to remove ice from his sidewalk and "for playing his music too loud."  According to the complaint, the ice, music and window summonses were dismissed and the driver license offense resulted in an eighteen month driver license suspension.  Kleinberg said that he was fixing his girlfriend's car in a driveway when the driver license summons was issued.

Also named in the lawsuit Chief of Police Kevin Carey.  Named in the release were officers Ryan Marrlow, Ryan Herron and Eric Wolf.

The case is captioned Kleinberg, v. Borough of Berlin, et al, Federal Case No. 1:16-cv-02555 and Kleinberg's attorneys were Matthew B. Weisberg and David A. Berlin of Morton, Pennsylvania.  The complaint and and the release are on-line here.

None of the Kleinberg' 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 Berlin or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Kleinberg $2,500 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.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Dover paid out $382,500 to settle police officer's "whistleblower" lawsuit.

On June 5, 2017, the Town of Dover (Morris County) paid $382,500 to settle a lawsuit filed by an officer who said that he was retaliated against for complaining about ticket-fixing and for reporting that officers were "stealing time" by leaving work early or taking days off.

In his complaint, Timothy Thiel claimed that during a 2011 traffic stop of a car driven by a campaign worker for Mayor James Dodd and which carried Alderwoman Carolyn Blackman as a passenger, he "was pressured to not write tickets because of who was in the car."  Thiel said that after he wrote two summonses despite the pressure, he learned that the tickets were improperly dismissed by the municipal court without his knowledge or approval.  Through a police sergeant, the ticket-fixing allegation was reported to the Morris County Prosecutor's Office.

Thiel claimed that his complaint about the alleged ticket-fixing caused Mayor Dodd and others to retaliate against him.  He said that he heard from Chief Harold Valentine that Dodd stated to OEM Coordinator Richard Riley that Riley had 18 months to "get" Thiel and Sergeant Richard Gonzalez.  Gonzalez, who had also filed a retaliation lawsuit against the Town, received a $420,000 settlement in January 2016.

Thiel's lawsuit alleged that after he reported officers for "stealing time" he was further ostracized.  He claimed that Lieutenant Young told him "that he was being thrown out of the Detective Bureau on that basis that he 'could not be trusted.'" He said he was repeatedly transferred to other units, denied overtime and that his requests for backup by other officers were delayed or denied.  He alleged that Chief Valentine threatened him with physical violence during a July 2014 meeting.

The settlement agreement calls for $320,000 to be paid to Thiel by the Town's insurance carrier for "personal injury, emotional distress and the physical manifestation thereof."  The Town agreed to pay an additional $60,000 for "accrued time" as well as a $2,500 medical insurance opt-out payment.  Thiel agreed to retire from the Department effective July 1, 2017 and the Town agreed to "cooperate with [Thiel's] reenrollment application for family coverage in the Town's group insurance program" and also agreed to not interfere with Thiel's application for pension benefits.

The case is captioned Thiel, v. Town of Dover, et al, Docket No. MRS-L-1734-15 and Thiel's attorney was Mallory A. Griffin of Warren.  The complaint and and the settlement are on-line here.

None of Thiel'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 Dover or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Thiel $382,500 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.

Manasquan paid out $35,000 to settle man's false arrest lawsuit.

On March 13, 2017, the Borough of Manasquan (Monmouth County) paid $35,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a Farmingdale man who claimed that a Borough police detective planted evidence that falsely suggested that he had been intoxicated even though his Breathalyzer test read 0.00%.

In his complaint, Michael G. Mylod claimed that he was emptying some Dunkin Donuts trash out of his car on October 24, 2014 when two Borough police officers approached him.  One of the officers, Detective Adam Pharo, allegedly demanded to know "how many beers" Mylod had that day even though Mylod claimed 20 years of sobriety.  Pharo, who said that he was investigating a child luring incident, allegedly falsely claimed that he smelled alcohol and threatened to impound Mylod's car.  Pharo went to the trash bin where Mylod had deposited his Dunkin Donuts trash and retrieved a black bag with a beer can inside and claimed that a witness had said that she saw Mylod throw the bag away.

When Mylod challenged the existence of the witness, Pharo allegedly "physically jolted" and asked "are you calling me a liar?"  After making Mylod perform field sobriety tests, which Mylod said he passed, Pharo allegedly handcuffed him, pushed him into a patrol car and accused him of resisting arrest.  At the police station, Pharo allegedly falsified his police report.  Mylod was issued summonses for drunk driving, even though the blood alcohol level was 0.00%, failure to produce an insurance card and registration (Mylod said that he was removed from the car before being asked to provide these documents), careless driving and for having an open container of alcohol in his car.  Mylod said that he was detained for four hours and that his car was impounded.

Mylod claimed that in Municipal Court he was "forced to plead guilty to failure to produce and failure to wear a seat belt" in order to obtain a dismissal of the more serious charges.  He said that he incurred legal fees, court costs and fines of nearly $4,800.

According to the complaint, police "falsely identified [Mylod] as a possible suspect in a child luring investigation and did not clear his name as a suspect until January 14, 2015."

The case is captioned Mylod, v. Borough of Manasquan, et al, Docket No. MON-L-3905-15 and Mylod's attorney was Philip G. Mylod of Lavallette.  The complaint and and the settlement are on-line here.

None of the Mylod' 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 Mylod $35,000 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.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Hudson confidentially paid out $120,000 to settle Sheriff Officers' retaliation lawsuit.

On May 2, 2017, the County of Hudson quietly agreed to pay $120,000 to two Sheriff Officers who claimed that former Sheriff Juan Perez and his political allies "created a culture of retaliation and intimidation within the Hudson County Sheriff's Office designed, in part, to promote Sheriff Perez's own personal and political agenda while quashing any political dissent or opposition to his administration."

In their complaint, Lieutenant Thomas Cerwinski, Sergeant Walter Zapoluch and Sheriff Officer Alex Pino claimed that Perez, along with Chief John Bartucci, Captain Larry Groskopff and Lieutenant Jose Gonzalez would use the Internal Affair system to selectively punish Perez's political enemies for minor infractions while allowing more serious misconduct by Perez's allies to go unpunished. 

Cerwinski alleged that he was unfairly denied promotion opportunities and Pino said that Groskopff referred to Hispanics as "Spics."  The plaintiffs also alleged that Perez would pressure sheriff officers to buy his fundraising tickets.

The settlement agreement, however, names only Cerwinski and Zapoluch as receiving a "one-time, lump-sum payment of $30,000.00 each."  No reference is made to Plaintiff Alex Pino so it is unknown at this time how Pino's case against the County resolved.  (Update: According to an August 3, 2017 e-mail from Donna M. Picinich, Legal Assistant to First Assistant County Counsel Michael L. Dermody, "there was no settlement with Mr. Pino as his case was dismissed on a Motion for Summary Judgment.")  The settlement also calls for Zayas to receive $60,000 for his attorney's fees and costs.

The case is captioned Cerwinski, et al v. Hudson County Sheriff Juan Perez, et al, Federal Case No. 2:10-cv-06830 and the plaintiffs' attorney was Louis A. Zayas of North Bergen.  Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from "affirmatively initiat[ing] publicity or contact[ing] with the press or media concerning this litigation or this settlement nor respond[ing] if contacted by the press or media."  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 the 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 Hudson or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the Cerwinski, Zapoluch, Pino and Zayas $120,000 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, July 30, 2017

Brooklawn and Bellmawr confidentially paid out $275,000 to settle fatal police shooting lawsuit.

On June 9, 2017, the Boroughs of Brooklawn and Bellmawr (Camden County) jointly agreed to quietly pay out $275,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by the family of a man who was fatally shot by police in 2012.

The lawsuit was brought by Deborah Wilson on behalf of her brother Michael Wood's estate.  The suit claimed that Wood called 911 on April 26, 2012 after having become intoxicated and very depressed at his brother's Bellmawr apartment.

According to the lawsuit, police forced their way into the apartment
and fatally shot Wood as he emerged from a bedroom while possibly carrying a knife.  A December 20, 2016 Opinion written by United States District Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez, however, provides more detail and context to the event.

According to Judge Rodriguez's opinion, Brooklawn Officer Charles Holland and Bellmawr Sergeant Jeffrey Vance were the first to arrive at the apartment in response to Wood's 911 call.  While they were outside the door attempting to make entry, they heard police dispatchers over the radio attempt to dial the number from which the 911 call originated.  The calls, which went straight to voicemail, indicated that that Michael Wood, or his brother Chris Wood, was unable to answer because he was deceased.

Vance and Holland, joined by Bellmawr Officers Christopher Cummings and Chris Wilhelm, forced the door, announced their presence and ascended a staircase with guns drawn.  They encountered Christopher Wood at the top of the stairs and handcuffed him without incident.  Michael Wood then called out from a back room, "It's not him you want, you're here for me."

While Cummings and Wilhelm took Christopher outside, Vance and Holland moved further into the apartment.  Holland saw Michael Wood through an open bedroom door sitting "Indian-style" on the floor holding a large knife and "twisting it into his upper thigh area."

Holland and Vance had testified that they spoke with Michael Wood for about five minutes in an attempt to get him to surrender his knives.  Vance described Wood's demeanor as "calm" while Holland said that he was "agitated."  When Wood closed the bedroom door, police interpreted it as a "barricade situation" and called in a SWAT team.

While waiting for the SWAT team to arrive, police brought Chris back into the apartment to help talk Michael into surrendering.  According to Judge Rodriguez's opinion, it appears that Chris became antagonistic by calling Michael names and telling him "look at that cop he's pointing a gun at you. He's gonna fucking kill you."  Michael reportedly told Chris to shut up and that "I just want to say goodbye."

A couple of minutes later, Michael reportedly opened the door while carrying the 14-inch knife vertically, with the blade pointing up.  According to Holland, he fired two fatal shots when Wood raised the knife to shoulder height and "pivoted toward Sergeant Vance."  Vance, however, said that the arm with which Wood held the knife was in a downward position and that Wood never turned toward him but remained facing Holland.

The case is captioned Estate of Wood, v. Borough of Bellmawr, et al, Federal Case No. 1:13-cv-0543 and the Estate's attorney was Robert J. Hensler of Collingswood. The complaint and and the settlement are on-line here.

The release contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement amount and 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 Wood's estate'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 Brooklawn and Bellmawr or their insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Wood's estate $275,000 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, July 26, 2017

Franklin paid out $6,000 to settle woman's racial discrimination, excessive force and false arrest lawsuit.

On April 14, 2017, the Township of Franklin (Somerset County) paid $6,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a woman who claimed that Township police subjected her to excessive force and then illegally seized her rental car in retaliation for her having filed an Internal Affairs complaint.

In her complaint, Rozia K. Mosley, who described herself as "a member of several protected classes in that she is handicapped and suffers from serious medical conditions" (surgical implantation of a titanium spinal cage around a portion of her spinal column) and as "a woman of African American descent," said that on March 8, 2015 she returned to a Somerset Street convenience store to retrieve some cigarettes that she had purchased a little while earlier . . . that were inadvertently not given to her at the time of purchase."  She claimed that the store owner, Shadesh Patel, who was not the person who sold her the cigarettes earlier, "failed to believe [her] and became disgruntled and called 911."

In response to the 911 call, Corporal Daniel McNamara and Officers Lila Madama, Michael Opaleski and Kenneth Reid arrived at the scene.  According to the complaint, Madama and McNamara "violently shoved" Mosley causing her to fall to the floor, lose consciousness and experience "uncontrollable muscle spasms."  Madama and McNamara then allegedly handcuffed Mosley tightly behind her back and "dragged her out of the store with her arms behind her back and her feet dragging behind her." 

Opaleski and Reid then allegedly "threw her into [a patrol car] so that she landed on her back on top of her handcuffed arms, wrists and hands" while all four officers stood outside the vehicle, laughed at her and told her to "stop faking seizures and that nothing was wrong with her."  The officers allegedly ridiculed her for 45 minutes before calling for an ambulance. 

Mosley said that she filed an Internal Affairs complaint against the four officers on March 31, 2015 and that on April 1, 2015, out of retaliation, Lieutenant Gregory Borlan and two other unnamed Caucasian officers seized her rental car, placed her in the back of a police car and drove her home.  She claimed that she gave Borlan keys to the rental car when he and other officers intimidated her by surrounding her when she was leaving the municipal court room and blocking her ability to walk away from the area.  Mosley claimed that police did not return the rental car to the rental car company until 14 days later, causing her to receive "a bill for usage of the vehicle by others not authorized to use same and damage to the vehicle and a bill for highway tolls."  She claimed that her Internal Affairs complaint and an aggravated assault charge against McNamara were not acted upon. 

The case is captioned Mosley, v. Township of Franklin, et al, Federal Case No. 3:16-cv-00790 and Mosley's attorneys were Christopher C. Roberts of East Orange and Frederick Coles, III of Warren.  The complaint and and the settlement are on-line here.

The release identifies Borlan, McNamara, Madama, Opaleski and Reid as "non-settling defendants."  The release does not benefit Patel, the convenience store owner, who Mosley named as a defendant in the suit because he allegedly "aided and abetted discriminatory conduct toward her" and for calling her a "fucking dumb black bitch" and other profanities and racial slurs during her March 8, 2015 visit to his convenience store.  It is unknown how Mosley's lawsuit resolved against Patel although the court docket indicates that a default was entered against him on May 16, 2016 "for failure to plead or otherwise defend."

None of the Mosley' 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 Franklin or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Mosley $6,000 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, July 25, 2017

Cumberland paid out $45,000 to settle truck driver's sexual harassment lawsuit.

On July 10, 2017, Cumberland County agreed to pay $45,000 to a public works employee who claimed that he was sexually harassed by his supervisor.

In his lawsuit, John James, Jr. claimed that he worked as a truck driver and equipment operator without incident from his hiring in 2002 until Donald Olbrich was hired as Supervisor of the Public Works Department in October 2009.  James, a heterosexual, claimed that Olbrich "began making sexual overtures to [James] shortly after Olbrich was hired but the County."

According to the lawsuit, Olbrich said, in front of other employees, that he wanted to use some of the grease that the employees were using and "slap that on [James'] ass."  The lawsuit also alleged that Olbrich would stare at James' buttocks which caused him to feel "rattled and dirty" and that Olbrich would, in reference to a hydraulic hose, wink at James and say "mine is bigger than that."

James claimed that he complained about the harassment to Fran Smith, his union representative but that a subsequent investigation, conducted by County Director of Personnel Joseph Rossi "was less than thorough as it focused only on . . . the incident involving the comment about Olbrich wanting to grease James' ass, and, only one witness was interviewed despite there being more than one witness to the incident."

According to the lawsuit, Olbrich then retaliated against James by giving him unfavorable transfers to different Public Works yards around the County and excluding him from opportunities for promotion.

The lawsuit was the subject of articles in both the Daily Journal and NJ Advance Media soon after it was filed in early 2015.  The articles both quote County Solicitor Ted Baker as stating that he did his own investigation and "[didn't] find any merit to this claim."

The case is captioned James v. County of Cumberland, Docket No. CUM-L-70-15 and James' attorney was Michelle J. Douglass of Somers Point.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of James' 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 Cumberland County or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay James $45,000 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.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Keansburg confidentially paid $22,500 to settle man's false arrest lawsuit.

On May 16, 2016, the Borough of Keansburg (Monmouth County) quietly paid $22,500 to settle a lawsuit brought by a man who claimed that his arrest by Borough police was in retaliation for him having complained about the police department's slow response time several weeks earlier.

In his complaint, Thomas J. Harris said that he called police on December 20, 2014 because a parked car was blocking his driveway.  Officer James Koempel, who responded to the call, allegedly disagreed with Harris and said that the car was not blocking his driveway.  Later that evening, Koempel, along with six other officers, returned and arrested Harris for criminal mischief claiming that he had vandalized the parked car.  Harris denied the accusation and said that Koempel threatened to call his employer to "tell them what kind of person" he was.  Harris said that he posted bail, was released from jail and was ultimately found not guilty of the charges.

Harris claimed that his arrest "was in retaliation for an incident which had occurred several weeks prior, when [Harris] and his wife had complained to the Keansburg Chief Police about the slow response time of the police, when the couple was attacked by a pitbull."  Also named in the suit was officer Justin Cocuzza.

The case is captioned Harris, v. Borough of Keansburg, et al, Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-3329-15 and Harris' attorney was Donald R. Moran of Jersey city.  The complaint and and the settlement are on-line here.

The release contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement amount and 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 Harris' 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 Keansburg or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Harris $22,500 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.

Lenape Valley Regional school board confidentially paid $55,000 to settle former assistant principal's wrongful termination lawsuit.

On March 9, 2017, the Lenape Valley Regional Board of Education (Sussex County) quietly paid $55,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by former assistant principal who claimed that his unwillingness to lie under oath to sabotage a disabled student's lawsuit against the school district caused him to be harassed and eventually fired.

In his suit, Dr. Keith Lockwood, said that Superintendent Paul DiRupo and Business Administrator Robert Klinck referred to the disabled student as "Retard" and the student's mother as a "c**t" and a "pain in the dick."  According to the lawsuit, both DiRupo and Klinck were worried that the disabled student "might become class valedictorian, and such an occurrence must be prevented at all costs." 

After Lockwood refused to lie under oath, he was allegedly threatened with loss of his job.  Lockwood also claimed that in 2013, DiRupo propositioned him to engage in a sex act.  According the the lawsuit, DiRupo "unequivocally requested that [Lockwood] perform oral sex after Lockwood offered to show DiRupo a pressure point on his hand that could be utilized to relieve DiRupo's headaches.  DiRupo also allegedly used a racial slur to refer to a black student who had been expelled for fighting with a white student.

More details regarding Lockwood's allegations can be found by reading the lawsuit itself or the New Jersey Herald's June 17, 2015 article, "Former assistant principal suing Lenape superintendent, BOE."

The case is captioned Lockwood v. Lenape Valley Regional Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. SSX-L-333-15 and Lockwood's attorney was Nima Ameri of Hackensack.  Case documents are on-line here.

As part of the settlement, Lenape agreed to give a neutral reference to Lockwood's future, prospective employers.

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 Lockwood'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 the Lenape Valley Regional school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Lockwood $55,000 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.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Bridgeton Board of Education paid out $197,500 to settle former employee's whistleblower lawsuit.

On April 10, 2017, the Bridgeton Board of Education (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $197,500 to a former teacher who said that her contract was not renewed after she complained that school officials would not help protect her from repeated physical assaults by students.

In her lawsuit, Michelle Andrews claimed that after she was assaulted by a student in January 2015, she filed a criminal complaint against the student and asked school officials "that the student who assaulted her be removed from her class so she would be protected from future violent acts."  Andrews claimed that her supervisors refused her request and told her to "put on her big girl pants and deal with it."  She claimed that she was again struck in the face by a student on March 18, 2015 when she was trying to break up a fight and was "body checked" by a female student shortly thereafter.  Andrews claimed that her supervisors did not write up or document the latter assault even though it was captured by a video camera.

After she formally complained to the Superintendent of Schools an offer to renew her contract was allegedly rescinded.  Andrews claimed that the non-renewal was done to retaliate against her for having complained.

The lawsuit was covered by the Daily Journal shortly after it was filed.  According to the article, the students who assaulted Andrews were sixth-graders.

As part of the settlement, the school board agreed to give a neutral job reference to Andrews' future employers.


The case is captioned Andrews v. Bridgeton Board of Education, Docket No. CUM-L-387-16 and Andrews' attorney was Richard M. Pescatore of Vineland.  Case documents are on-line here

None of Andrews' 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 the Bridgeton school board or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Andrews $197,500 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.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Bridgeton confidentially paid $550,000 to settle sexual harassment claim.

On March 30, 2017, the City of Bridgeton (Cumberland County) quietly agreed to pay $550,000 to settle a sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit filed by five female employees of the City.

In their complaint, City employees Deena Bertolini, Veronica Cheeseman, Carolyn Dover, Deanne Laing, and Kelly Queen claimed that Officer Angel Santiago subjected them to "a plethora of unwanted sexual harassment" including scratching the tops of their breasts, showing them photos of his penis which he called "Captain Hook" and "acting like he was fixing something underneath their desks and subsequently pushing his penis on them after making them stand up out of their chairs."

The women claimed that when they reported Angel Santiago's conduct to his superiors, his twin brother Luis Santiago "undertook a campaign of retaliation" against them involving conduct such as making false reports against them, giving them dirty looks and refusing to let male officers cover for the women's calls.

A June 10, 2015 South Jersey Times article, which covered the filing of the women's lawsuit, quoted the women's lawyer as saying that Angel Santiago was suspended without pay in October 2013 as a result of the Cumberland County Prosecutor's investigation into the matter.  According to the Times article, the lawyer said that the City worked out a settlement with Angel Santiago before a disciplinary hearing took place.  In a separate matter, Angel Santiago was one of six officers named in a excessive force lawsuit that resulted in an April 4, 2015 settlement of $500,000.

Luis Santiago was suspended with pay on November 11, 2016 and then was suspended without pay on December 14, 2016.  The suspension came shortly after Luis was charged with sexual contact and harassment, according to a November 10, 2016 article in the Daily Journal.   It is presently unknown whether those charges have been resolved or whether the suspension has been lifted.

According to the June 10, 2015 Times article, "Both Santiago men were placed on administrative duty in 2012 after Angel Santiago was charged with simple assault for his involvement in a domestic violence incident and Luis Santiago had a harassment charge filed against him."  The article went onto state that Luis Santiago was on active duty at the time the article was written.

The case is captioned Bertolini, et al v. City of Bridgeton, et al, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-361-15 and the plaintiffs' attorney was Arthur J. Murray of Atlantic City.  It and the settlement are on-line here.

The release contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from "releas[ing] information regarding this incident and/or lawsuit and/or settlement including the nature and amount of settlement."  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 women'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 Bridgeton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the women $550,000 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.