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.