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.