Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Woodbridge confidentially paid out $125,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On October 25, 2016, the Township of Woodbridge (Middlesex County) quietly paid $125,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a local man who claimed that he lost several of his front teeth after police smashed him in the face with a flashlight.

According to his lawsuit, Jeffrey Gutierrez said that he was at the Friday's restaurant on Gills Lane on December 9, 2011 when police arrived in response to a call about a person with a knife.  According to Gutierrez, he was at the bar with his brother Jorge when police searched him for the knife and, after not finding one, pushed him to the ground and hit him in the face with a flashlight.  Police took him to police headquarters where he was processed and released.  Named in the lawsuit were officers Michael Agosta, Matthew Carney, Michael Dellisanti, Brian McGuirk, Lukasz Pepkowski, Daniel Perovic, Adrian Valentino, Brett Wider and Matthew Herbert.  Also named were Police Director Robert Hubner and Captain Roy Hoppock.

The case is captioned Gutierrez v. Township of Woodbridge, et al, Federal Case No. 2:13-cv-01937 and Gutierrez's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold. 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 Woodbridge or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Gutierrez $125,000 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.