Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Union City confidentially paid out $100,000 to resolve ICE agent's false arrest lawsuit.

On December 27, 2016, the City of Union City (Hudson County) agreed to pay $100,000 to a Homeland Security Special Agent who claimed that he was arrested for questioning a woman who he believed was surveilling his apartment.  Mayor/State Senator Brian Stack, who allegedly became irate after the woman called him, came to the scene and reportedly screamed "I am the f**king Mayor! This is my city! F**k the feds!" several times.

In his complaint, Ricky Patel, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent, said that on November 30, 2012 he observed a woman parked outside his residence "conducting what he thought was surveillance since the previous day."  He confronted the woman after learning that there was a note from the Union City Police Department on his windshield saying that his vehicle was "part of an ongoing investigation."

According to the complaint, the woman became combative when Patel questioned her and made a phone call at the same time Patel called Union City Police.  Patel said that he heard the woman make the call and say "Brian, that guy from the silver car is asking me why I'm parked here."  Soon thereafter, Stack arrived on the scene with two other men and reportedly "began screaming in [Patel's] face."  Patel said that he heard Stack on the phone saying "get the f**king Chief of Police down here."  When Captain Nichelle Luster arrived, Stack allegedly demanded that Patel be arrested for harassment and that his vehicle be impounded.

When questioned by Luster at the police station, Patel said that Luster was concerned that federal agents were "conducting an unsanctioned investigation against our mayor."  According to the complaint, Mayor Stack lived on the same street as Patel and an FBI corruption raid on City Hall occurred just two weeks prior.  Patel said that he didn't know that Stack lived on his street and that he refused Luster's request to search his apartment.  Patel said that he was released after other Union City officers vouched for his identity.

Patel claimed that shortly thereafter he received a notice from the State of New Jersey that his apartment was to be inspected.  He claimed that Stack used his position as a State Senator to arrange for the inspection.  He moved out of the apartment about a month later.

The case is captioned Patel v. City of Union City, et al, Federal Case No. 2:14-cv-07398 and Patel's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  Case documents are on-line here

The lawsuit received news coverage shortly after it was filed.

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 Patel'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 Union City or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Patel $100,000 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.