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.
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.