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.