Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Vineland quietly paid out $425,000 to settle detective's whistleblower lawsuit.

On August 20, 2018, the City of Vineland (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $425,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a police detective who claimed that he was retaliated against for reporting another detective's alleged act of warning a fugitive that undercover police officers were going to search his residence.

In his lawsuit, Richard Burke said he discovered evidence that Detective Shane Harris "hindered a fugitive investigation by warning the fugitives that Vineland police officers were outside [the fugitive's] residence and described their undercover cars to the fugitive as well as providing advice to the fugitive to refuse a search of his residence."  Burke claimed that he later learned that "Harris' daughter was dating one of the fugitives involved in the investigation and that her vehicle was used to flee from Vineland Police Officers [and that one of the fugitives attempted] to strike Sergeant Steven Triantos with Detective Harris' daughter's vehicle."  He also claimed that Harris' mother hid the fugitive in her home.

Despite reporting his findings to his superiors, including Captain Rudolph Beu, Captain Thomas Ulrich, Sergeant Steven Triantos and Sergeant Leonard Wolf, Burke claimed that no action was taken against Harris.  Rather, Uhrich "threatened to suspend [Burke] if he continued to complain about Harris' conduct," according to the lawsuit.

Burke said that his efforts to hold Harris accountable led to a "steady barrage of retaliation" from his superiors including being demoted, being denied sick time and personal days, having his car taken away and being called "a rat."

As part of the settlement, Burke agreed to "retire his position as an officer with the City of Vineland Police Department effective August 31, 2018 due to work related disability injury."

The case is captioned Burke v. City of Vineland, Cumberland County Superior Court Docket No. CUM-L-649-15 and Burke's attorney was Louis Barbone of Atlantic City.  The complaint and settlement agreement are on-line here

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 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 Vineland or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Burke $425,000 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.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Tuckerton paid out $65,000 to settle female volunteer firefighter's sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit.

On April 6, 2016, the Borough of Tuckerton (Ocean County) agreed to pay $65,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former female volunteer firefighter who claimed that senior fire company officials retaliated against her after a Fire Captain, who was the Fire Chief's son, broke off an "intimate relationship" with her.

According to her lawsuit, Janette Dominski, who became a probationary member of the Tuckerton Volunteer Fire Company in the Fall of 2012, began an "intimate relationship" in December 2012 with Lewis E. Eggert, Jr. who was a Fire Captain and son of Fire Chief Lewis E. Eggert, Sr. "Despite their agreement to keep their intimate relationship separate from their positions with [the] Fire Company, on or about December 30, 2012, Captain Eggert kissed [Dominski] while at the fire house where he pushed Plaintiff against the fire truck," according to the lawsuit.

Dominski claimed that Captain Eggert "became distant" with her in January 2013 and told her "that they should end their relationship because he did not want to put [Dominski] through what his family put his ex-girlfriend Hannah through."  According to the civil complaint, Hannah was a former member of the fire company "and was forced out . .  very similar to the way [Dominski] was ultimately forced to leave."  Captain Eggert, who lived with his parents at the time, told Dominski that he had a conversation with his father about the "Hannah situation" and wanted to "spare her," according to the complaint.

Shortly after their relationship ended, Dominski claimed that Captain Eggert "clearly threatened" her position and that photographs that she had taken of a fire scene and shared with her Facebook friends "became an issue."  The photos were of a December 18, 2012 fire at Mystic Island.  Fire Company President Charles Uhl told her at the time that she could not take pictures because they "were at a potential crime scene" but that Dale Eggert, who was senior to Dominski, "shrugged it off" when Dominski told him about the photos, according to the lawsuit. Dominski claimed that she did remove the photos from her Facebook account after speaking with Dale Eggert.  Dominski alleged that on January 18, 2013, Chief Eggert sent her an e-mail telling her that her photo-taking was "a dead issue. Nothing was done wrong."

On January 31, 2013, Dominski said that she was accused by Captain Eggert, President Uhl and others of attending a Fire Academy graduation when she was actually standing by at the fire station studying for her classes.  When she denied that she attended the graduation, Captain Eggert, President Uhl and the others "continued to bully and humiliate" her.  Eggert allegedly told her that she "had become quiet and secretive" and was "going to be out."

According to the lawsuit, Dominski was relieved of her duties by Chief Eggert after his son, Captain Eggert, told him that she "had symptoms of asthma in cold weather in the past and that this information was not noted on her member application."  Dominski claimed that she did indeed have such symptoms as a child but hadn't suffered from them in years and that her doctor, who knew about her past asthma, didn't list those symptoms on her membership application because it was so long ago.

Dominski claimed that she was required to undergo a second medical examination at her own expense.  She alleged that no other member was required to undergo a second exam except for Hannah, who allegedly also had an intimate relationship with Captain Eggert and left the department because of harassment she suffered.

When she complained about the harassment to Chief Eggert, he summoned her to a February 3, 2013 meeting and told her that "he was upset with his son and found it dishonest that he did not learn about [his son's] relationship [with Dominski] sooner."  Because he was upset, Chief Eggert allegedly said that he "had changed his mind about the" fire scene photos that Dominski had taken in December and threatened to bring charges against her.  Eggert allegedly told Dominski that she would be "bounced" at the next firehouse meeting.

According to the lawsuit, Uhl conducted a hearing regarding disciplinary charges brought against Dominski at the March 5, 2013 meeting.  The hearing, which Dominski described as a "kangaroo court," resulted in the continuance of Dominski's suspension and a one-year extension of her probationary period.

In June 2013, Dominski claimed that there was a notice taped to her gear locker that read "JANETTE DOMINSKI LEAVE THE BUILDING IMMEDIATELY AND DO NOT RETURN UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. Lee Eggert, Chief."  After seeing the notice and returning home, Dominski claimed that a police officer was at her house who informed her that she may have violated the law by possessing a prescription inhaler that Dominski had claimed belonged to her son.  Chief Eggert had called police after he "saw an inhaler in [her] equipment bag . . . that had an old expiration date and had no prescription label," according to the lawsuit. In a letter, Chief Eggert allegedly informed Dominski that she was "terminated from membership in the Tuckerton Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 effective immediately."

The case is captioned Dominski v. Borough of Tuckerton, et al, Ocean County Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-2952-14 and Dominski's attorney was Sebastian B. Ionno of Pitman.  Case documents are on-line here.

Of the $65,000 settlement, Dominski received $38,324.56 and her attorney received the remaining $26,675.44.  Tuckerton also agreed to pay an undetermined amount of mediation costs.

Dominski also agreed to "simply state that the matter is resolved and dismissed and that she has no further comment" if "she is contacted by any member of the news media or any third party seeking comment on the status of the litigation and the settlement herein."  She also agreed to not "seek in any way to be reinstated, re-employed or hired by the Defendants in the future."

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 Tuckerton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Dominski $65,000 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.

(Note: Dominski's lawsuit was mentioned in another lawsuit filed against the Tuckerton Fire Company that is reported on here.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Lavallette zoning/code enforcement official quietly resigns in exchange for three month's pay plus pay for accrued vacation and personal days.

In a July 16, 2018 "Full and Final Release Agreement," the Borough of Lavallette (Ocean County) agreed to pay its Zoning Official and Code Enforcement Officer $9,396.00 (which is "three (3) months of regular hours of work as salary"), less tax deductions, plus an additional $2,958.50 for accrued vacation and personal days in order to resolve "all disputed claims involving certain disciplinary charges" against the official.  The agreement does not specify the nature of the allegations upon which the charges were based and specifically states that the payment "is not an admission of liability or wrongdoing."

As his part of the agreement, Gary Royer, the former Borough official who received the settlement payments, agreed to submit an irrevocable letter of resignation, effective June 28, 2018, from his Lavallette positions of Zoning Official and Code Enforcement Officer as well as other positions he held in the Borough of Seaside Park.

Both Royer and the Borough agreed to "not discuss this settlement with anyone except to say that it has been resolved to the satisfaction" of both parties.  The Borough also agreed to tell prospective employers only that Royer had "resigned in good standing."

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Tuckerton paid out $50,000 to settle volunteer firefighter's retaliation lawsuit.

On January 31, 2017, the Borough of Tuckerton (Ocean County) agreed to pay $50,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former volunteer firefighter who claimed  that senior fire company officials retaliated against him after he refused a demand to stop speaking with a female firefighter who had been previously terminated from the fire company.

In his lawsuit,Matthew Puzio said that he chaired the fire company's Parade Committee in 2013 which endeavored to hold a holiday parade in December of that year.  Puzio said that Fire Chief Lewis Eggert, Sr., Assistant Chief Lewis Eggert, Jr. and President Charles Uhl were supportive of the idea of a parade and repeatedly told him to "run with it" until Uhl saw Puzio speaking with Janette Dominski, a former fire company member, who Puzio claimed had been "wrongfully terminated" from the fire company.  According to the lawsuit, "Uhl told [Puzio} in unambiguous terms that he was not to associate with Ms. Dominski because she was going to sue the fire company."

Puzio claimed that soon after he refused Uhl's demand to stop associating with Dominski, Eggert, Sr., Eggert, Jr. and Uhl began to harass and retaliate against him.  He claimed that the trio began to question every decision he made regarding the parade and that Uhl removed him from the Parade Committee two weeks before the parade's scheduled date.  When Puzio decided to run against Uhl for the position of fire company president, the trio of senior officers allegedly "falsely and publicly accused [Puzio] of intending to charge children to see Santa Claus at a parade related event and falsely and publicly accused [Puzio] of unilaterally deciding to include beer sales in the event all in an attempt to paint [Puzio] in a bad light to the Tuckerton Community."

Puzio also claimed that Chief Eggert entered onto Puzio's fenced property, stuck his head in Puzio's kitchen window and "began hollering" at him.  The senior Eggert also allegedly enlisted Puzio's neighbor to participate in the harassment by telling him that Puzio "badmouthed" him.  The neighbor allegedly retaliated by "gutting a deer in his front yard very close to [Puzio's] property line and allowing it to bleed out frightening [Puzio's] young son with the grotesque display."

When Puzio complained to Uhl and the Borough Council, Uhl allegedly responded by suspending him for "tak[ing] his complaints outside the Fire Company."  Uhl allegedly told Puzio that the suspension would continue until Puzio agreed to handle the matter within the company and without being represented by a lawyer.  Puzio said that he was suspended at a fire company meeting and that no notice had been given that his suspension was going to be discussed.  Several months later, Puzio received an e-mail advising him that "he had been terminated from the fire company by a vote of the members of the company, again without notice or any opportunity to be heard," according to the lawsuit.

The case is captioned Puzio v. Borough of Tuckerton, et al, Ocean County Superior Court Docket No. OCN-L-582-15 and Puzio' attorney was Sebastian B. Ionno of Pitman.  Case documents are on-line here.

According to the release, Puzio received $29,000 of the settlement amount with the remainder going to his attorney.  According to the Borough Council's February 6, 2017 resolution, the $50,000 was paid by the Ocean County Municipal Joint Insurance Fund.

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 Tuckerton or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Puzio $50,000 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 6, 2018

Female inmate's sex assault lawsuit against Edna Mahan women's prison settles for $35,000.

On June 1, 2018, the New Jersey Department of Corrections agreed to pay $35,000 to a female inmate who said that she was groped and sexually assaulted by male prison guards.

In her suit, Christine Bernat, an inmate at the Hunterdon County-based Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women, claimed that Senior Corrections Officer Erick Melgar "sexually assaulted" her by "groping her, pinching her nipples, kissing her, having her position herself in a sexual way, having her perform oral sex, and having her engage in unprotected intercourse."  He also allegedly threw ice at her and hit her with a ruler.

Bernat also claimed that Melgar was assisted by fellow Corrections Officer Janette Bennett who acted as a look-out when Melgar was in an inmate's cell.  According to Bernat's summary judgment opposition brief, Bennett "would laugh when assisting Melgar and would comment 'this is great, we get paid for this.'"

Bernat said that Edna Mahon Administrator William Hauck and other officials knew that Melgar was having sexual contact with female inmates prior to Bernat's 2009 arrival at the facility but failed to take preventative action.  Hauck vehemently denied this and claimed that the first he knew of any alleged sexual assaults was when he was notified by a staff psychologist.  He said that upon notification he immediately reassigned Melgar to another unit and began termination proceedings that ultimately resulted in Melgar's and Bennett's firing.

After Melgar was reassigned, Sergeant Jeffrey S. Ellis allegedly transmitted Melgar's messages to Bernat and Bennett allegedly convinced other inmates to make positive statements about Melgar in order to interfere with an investigation into Melgar's alleged conduct

Bernat claimed that her reporting of the incidents caused prison officials, including Sergeant Lance Johnson, to retaliate against her.  She alleged that Johnson told her that she would have to "take Officer Melgar's [censored word] out of her mouth" if she wanted the harassment to stop.

Also during Melgar's reassignment, Senior Corrections Officer Alfred E. Smalls allegedly "sexually assaulted" Bernat by kissing her and grabbing her breasts in a private bathroom reserved for correction officers.  Smalls then allegedly bribed Bernat "with prison perks and contraband."

Document filed with Bernat's lawsuit include a July 2013 Appellate Division decision  that upheld Smalls' December 30, 2010 termination from Edna Mahan. According to the decision, the main witness against Smalls was a female inmate identified only by her initials "C.B."  C.B. said that she kissed Smalls in an "officer's bathroom . . . where Smalls grabbed her breast."  She said that there were four incidents where the pair kissed and that she "made a joke out of" smelling like Smalls' cologne after one of the kissing incidents.  She said that Smalls gave her tobacco products that she sold to other inmates.

Smalls denied C.B.'s allegations and pointed to "a prior false allegations" that C.B. had made,  but Administrative Law Judge Laura Sanders found it "to have little probative weight."  Ultimately, Judge Sanders found C.B.'s credibility to be greater than Small's and recommended his removal.  The Civil Service Commission, over Small's objections, agreed and terminated Small's employment.

The case is captioned Bernat v. New Jersey Department of Corrections, et al, Federal Case No. 3:12-cv-02649 and Bernat's attorney was Jeffrey S. Mandel of Morristown.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Bernat's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that the $35,000 payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by the Department of Corrections or any of its officials.  (Note: According to the release, Melgar, Bennett and Smalls, in their individual capacities, were not released from Bernat's lawsuit.) All that is known for sure is that Ocean or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Bernat $35,000 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.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Buena confidentially paid out $125,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On July 27, 2017, the Borough of Buena (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $125,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a Buena Vista Township man who claimed that two Borough officers roughed him up during a traffic stop and were laughing when he lay bleeding on the ground.

In his lawsuit, Warren J. Morris said that he was driving his car through Buena Vista Township on June 20, 2014 when he was stopped by Buena Borough police officers Sean Griffith and Jacob Apostle.  Morris said that he was fearful when the officers approached his car "because he did not know who these individuals were, they at no time identified themselves."  According to Morris, when he asked the officers to identify themselves, Griffin replied "It doesn't matter who we are."  Morris claimed that upon being told this, he demanded that a State Trooper be called to the scene.

Morris claimed that he was arrested for "obstruction" because he rolled his passenger window down only half way when Griffith demanded that it be rolled down all the way.  According to the lawsuit, Apostle punched Morris in the eye when he exited the vehicle in accordance with Griffith's order even though he did nothing to resist or provoke the officers.  Morris said that the punch caused him to lose consciousness and that he was dragged across the ground and pepper sprayed by Griffith.  He said that both officers were "standing behind their SUV type police vehicle laughing while working on something inside" while Morris was lying on the ground "with a good deal of blood on his right arm."

Morris was taken to the hospital where he was allegedly treated for "facial contusion, facial lacerations, subconjunctival hemorrhage to the eye, chemical conjunctivitis and a chemical burns."  He said that he was taken to the police station and given several motor vehicle moving and document-based summonses "all of which were issued without basis in fact."  Morris said that all of the charges were later dismissed by a Municipal Court Judge.

The case is captioned Morris v. Borough of Buena, et al, Atlantic County Superior Court Docket No. ATL-L-1281-16 and Morris' attorney was David R. Castellani of Northfield.  Case documents are on-line here.

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 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 Buena or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Morris $125,000 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, July 5, 2018

Perth Amboy school board confidentially paid $174,000 to settle Security Director's racial discrimination lawsuit.

On September 17, 2017, the Perth Amboy Board of Education (Middlesex County) quietly paid $174,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by its former Director of Security that claimed that the school board replaced him because he refused to hire Hispanic applicants who were less qualified than non-Hispanic applicants.

James Ferriter, who was described in the lawsuit as "a white male," said that he "was criticized by Hispanic [school board] members for hiring non-Hispanic individuals for security positions instead of Hispanic individuals even though the persons hired were more qualified for the positions."  He claimed that then Board member Israel Varela told another, Hispanic employee that the school district should "get our own kind" in here.  He claimed that after being informed that his contract was being renewed for the 2011-12 school year, former Superintendent Janine Caffrey recommended that his position be abolished causing his employment to end on August 31, 2011.  Ferriter claimed that his position was later filled by someone who he believed was "willing to recommend for hire individuals in accordance with the [school board's] discriminatory practices."

Ferriter's racial discrimination claims were mentioned in an October 9, 2014 newspaper article entitled "School workers say they were fired because they weren't Hispanic."  Bernice Marshall, whose similar claims were featured in the article, settled her lawsuit in 2015 for $170,000.

In addition to Caffrey and Varela, former Board member Kenneth Gonzalez and present member Obdulia Gonzalez were also individually named in the lawsuit.

The case is captioned Ferriter v. Perth Amboy Board of Education, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. MID-L-4554-13 and Ferriter's attorney was Phillip B. Linder of Edison.  Case documents are on-line here.  On October 3, 2017, Robert B. Woodruff of Scotch Plains, who apparently replaced Linder as Ferriter's attorney, filed a motion to compel the school board to pay the $174,000 settlement amount.

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 Ferriter'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 Perth Amboy school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Ferriter $174,000 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.

Turnpike Authority paid out $500,000 to settle excessive force lawsuit against six State Troopers.

On April 13, 2018, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority paid $500,000 to settle a Piscataway couple's excessive force lawsuit against the New Jersey State Police.

In their complaint, Jermaine Rudd and his wife Louise Rudd claimed that on December 24, 2014, Mr. Rudd was arrested by Trooper Nitesh Patel who was assisted by other Troopers including Thomas Gamaro, Joe Villa, Oczkos Blazeg, Julio Mota and Gerrad Vega.  During the arrest, the Troopers allegedly "used excessive force, assaulted, battered and otherwise violently attacked Rudd while he was in police custody."  Unfortunately, the complaint does not provide any details regarding the nature of the alleged application of excessive force.

The minutes of the New Jersey Turnpike Authority's March 27, 2018 meeting, however, disclose that Mr. Rudd's claim arose out of a DWI motor vehicle stop on the Garden State Parkway and that Rudd claimed that Troopers used excessive force against him while he was in the back of a patrol vehicle.  Rudd also claimed that he fell in his cell at the old Bloomfield Barracks and then outside after he was released.  He claimed to have suffered a fractured left kneecap and several torn knee ligaments.

The Authority's minutes also disclose that the video of the alleged incident in the patrol vehicle was preserved while the video from the barracks was not, leading to a potential spoliation (i.e. the intentional, reckless, or negligent withholding, hiding, altering, fabricating, or destroying of evidence relevant to a legal proceeding) claim.  According to the minutes, Troopers Gamaro, Villa and Vega were dismissed from the lawsuit but claims were still pending against Troopers Patel, Mota and Oczkos when the settlement decision was made.

Mrs. Rudd's claim is based on her "loss of services, companionship and society of her husband." Patel is also accused in the lawsuit of filing a false police report.

The case is captioned Jermaine Rudd et al, v. State of New Jersey, et al, Middlesex County Superior Court Docket No. MID-L-5884-15 and the Rudds' attorney was Brian Schiller of Westfield.  The complaint and the release are on-line here.

None of the the Rudds' 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 the Rudds $500,000 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, June 25, 2018

Mansfield Ambulance Corps confidentially paid out $195,000 to female EMT who claimed that supervisor grabbed her crotch.

On February 26, 2018, the Mansfield Township Ambulance Corps (Burlington County) agreed to pay $195,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former employee who claimed that her boss grabbed her vaginal area during an employee social event.

In her lawsuit, Michele Drangula, an Emergency Medical Technician with the ambulance corps, claimed that during a March 2015 employee social event at Nooks Pourhouse in Florence, Ryan Lewis, the corps' overall supervisor, came over to her table and "physically grabbed [her] vaginal area."  Drangula's lawsuit claimed that even after she protested this "unwanted and horribly inappropriate" conduct, "Lewis continued to attempt to grab [her] vaginal area." Drangula claimed that she did not report Lewis because of fear of retaliation.

She claimed that after this alleged incident, Lewis began to harass her in the workplace by making lewd and sexually charged comments.  On October 27, 2016, there was another staff social event at O'Connor's American Bar and Grille in Eastampton at which Lewis, according to the lawsuit, demanded that Drangula give him a ride home.  She alleged that she "felt powerless to refuse the supervisor a ride home."  When they arrived at Lewis' home, Drangula claimed that he said "I want you to pull out of the driveway so I can f**k you."  After Drangula protested and tried to get Lewis out of the vehicle, he allegedly said "I remember what your pu**y felt like and wanted to play with it again."  When she shouted "GET OUT!," Lewis allegedly responded "So, you're not cool with this?"  Drangula said that her shouting worked to get Lewis to leave the vehicle "likely [because he] feared awakening his wife and children in his home."

Drangula claimed that Lewis' pervasive harassment forced her to resign on January 14, 2017.

Of the $195,000, Drangula received $128,666.67 and her attorney received the remainder.

The case is captioned Drangula v. Mansfield Township Ambulance Corps, et al, Docket No, BUR-L-1096-17 and Drangula's attorney was Patrick F. Carrigg of Lawrenceville.  Case documents are on-line here.

In her response to an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request for the settlement agreement, Mansfield Township Clerk Linda Semus wrote that "although the Ambulance Corp is a not-for-profit organization, the Township's Joint Insurance Fund provided coverage."

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 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 the Mansfield Ambulance Corps or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Drangula $195,000 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.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Union school board confidentially paid out $132,500 to former teacher who posted on Facebook that homosexuality is a sin.

On June 5, 2018, the Union Township Board of Education (Union County) agreed to pay $132,500 to a tenured special education teacher who said that she was forced to resign after she posted on her personal Facebook page that homosexuality is a "perverted spirit" and "unnatural immoral behavior." 

In her suit, Jenye Viki Knox, a tenured special education teacher, claimed that in September 2011 she publicly posted on Facebook about a billboard at Union High School that promoted "alternative lifestyles contrary to her private religious beliefs."  She claimed that she responded to attacks to her posting by expressing her belief, based on biblical text, of "homosexuality as a sin and disobedience to God."  Her lawsuit claimed that her posts were made during non-working hours without the use of school computers.

Knox, who had been employed by the Union school district as a special education teacher since 2000 and who also is an ordained minister, said that after school officials became aware of her posts on October 11, 2011 she "was removed from her classroom publicly without any advance notice in front of her students and in front of other teachers during school hours" and escorted to a small room where school board attorney James Damato, Assistant Superintendent Greg Tatum, and Union Township Education Association Vice President Jim Gross were waiting for her.  She claimed that the men "interrogated [her] about her Facebook posts and conversation" and that she was "pressured by these individuals to say that her religious beliefs were wrong."  She claimed to have "felt extremely intimidated."

Knox said that she was again removed from her classroom on October 13, 2011 and taken to a room where Superintendent Dr. Patrick Martin, Union High School Principal Ed Gibbons and Union Education Association President Ann Margaret Shannon were waiting for her.  At that meeting, Dr. Martin allegedly told Knox that she was suspended with pay because of her Facebook posts.  She claimed that she was not afforded any pre-suspension legal process and that after the meeting she was taken back to her classroom and told to gather her personal belongings and leave the property.

On October 18, 2011, the Board of Education held a public meeting at which Knox claimed her religious beliefs were criticized openly and publicly.  According to the lawsuit, Damato told Knox on December 23, 2011 that she was suspended without pay and that tenure charges were filed against her.  She claimed that school officials forced her to repay all the salary she received after her initial October 13, 2011 suspension.

On June 2012, Knox submitted her letter of resignation.  She claimed that the Board's actions caused her health to deteriorate "to the point where she could not longer work from the stress of the intimidation, harassment, and emotional distress that resulted from the investigation and the [school officials'] actions."

According to a news story, Knox agreed earlier this year to a three-year suspension of her teaching certificates.

The case is captioned Knox v. Union Township Board of Education, et al, Federal Case No. 2:13-cv-0587 and Knox's attorney was Demetrios K. Stratis of Fair Lawn. Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement prescribed that the $132,500 was to be apportioned as follows: $24,500 for Knox's back wages, $63,833.33 for Knox's claims of emotional distress and $44,166.67 for Knox's attorney's fees and costs.

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 Knox's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. All that is known for sure is that the Union school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Knox $132,500 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, June 18, 2018

Belleville confidentially paid out $90,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On December 5, 2017, the Township of Belleville (Essex County) agreed to pay $90,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a man, now deceased, who claimed that Township police falsely arrested and used excessive force against him in September 2010.

In his lawsuit, Nicholas H. Quartuccio, Sr. said that he was cooperative when police arrived at his home on September 2, 2010 in response to a call regarding a dispute between Quartuccio, his daughter and her boyfriend.  According to the lawsuit, the dispute was over whether the daughter's boyfriend was allowed to stay at the premises.  According to Quartuccio, officers kept asking him the same questions and kept responding "wrong answer" when he answered them.  He claimed that police, without cause, surrounded him and "hit him on the back of the head and slammed him to the ground."  Thereafter, the officers allegedly "kicked, punched and beat [him] outside his home, jumping and pummeling him and hitting him in the head." 

Quartuccio claimed that police falsely charged him with aggravated assault on a police officer, resisting arrest, criminal mischief and throwing bodily fluids at a law enforcement officer.  He said that he spent about a week in jail and, on advice of his lawyer, pled guilty to simple assault and a disorderly persons charge.

According to media reports, Quartuccio died in a house fire in early February 2015.  The settlement agreement was made with his estate.

Belleville police officers Matthew Dox, John Andino, Anthony Abate, Joseph Werner, Charles Mollineux, William Knoth and Franchino Pigantaro were named as defendants in the lawsuit.  Also named was then Chief Joseph P. Rotonda.

The case is captioned Quartuccio v. Township of Belleville, et al, Federal Case No. 2:12-cv-05464 and Quartuccio's estate's attorney was Shelley L. Stangler of Springfield.  Case documents are on-line here.

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 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 Belleville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Quartuccio $90,000 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.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

State Trooper's lawsuit, filed in 2005, settled for $1.4 million.

On December 20, 2017, a former State Trooper, who sued the New Jersey State Police (NJSP) in 2005, finally settled his whistleblower and retaliation lawsuit for $1.4 million.

Brian Royster's lawsuit, which has taken a circuitous route through the court system, was extensively covered by the media.  Royster, who is black, claimed in his lawsuit that the NJSP denied him a promotion and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by transferring him from an office job to conduct surveillance in an automobile.  Royster claimed that NJSP officials knew that the transfer did not accommodate his ulcerative colitis which requires him to be close to a restroom.  His lawsuit also claimed that he suffered retaliation when he reported that the NJSP did not properly investigate racial discrimination claims and that troopers accused of wrongdoing were allowed to retire instead of being disciplined.  He further claimed retaliation for reporting that white troopers were disciplined less severely than black troopers.

An Essex County jury awarded Royster $1.06 million in 2012 but this verdict was reversed and remanded by the Appellate Division on March 10, 2015.  In its opinion, the three-judge panel found that the state was immune from Royster's ADA claims and that several trial court errors required reversal of his Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA or Whistleblower) claims.  In a January 17, 2017 opinion, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that "the interests of justice" required that Royster be allowed to reinstate his Law Against Disability (LAD) claim which had been waived before the trial court.  The Supreme Court ultimately "molded" the jury's verdict and directed the trial court to enter a $500,000 judgment (plus $97,083.33 in interest) in Royster's favor on his LAD claim.

The $1.4 million settlement agreement appears to be in exchange for Royster's dismissal of his CEPA claims which were not directly considered by the Supreme Court's ruling.  A stipulation of settlement which was filed on April 11, 2018 specifies that the $500,000 judgment is also resolved by the $1.4 million settlement.  While it is not entirely clear, it appears that the $1.4 million amount is intended to replace the $500,000 judgement and not supplement it.

The lawsuit is is captioned Royster v. New Jersey State Police, et al, Docket No. ESX-L-7033-05 and Royster's attorney is Michael J. Reimer of South Orange.

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 the NJSP or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Royster $1,400,00 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, June 6, 2018

Manasquan school board paid out $75,000 to settle a high schooler's claim that he was incessantly bullied.

On August 4, 2016, the Manasquan (Monmouth County) Board of Education agreed to pay a high school student and his parents $75,000 to settle the family's claim that school officials did not do enough to protect him from harassment and bullying inflicted by other students.

According to the lawsuit, the student attended private school until his sophomore year and enrolled in Manasquan High School in the summer of 2014.  Despite a medical condition that entitled to boy to a "504 Plan," school officials did not provide an adequate 504 Plan, according to court filings.  Also, the boy's parents claimed that they specifically asked school officials not to put their son in the same classes with students who bullied him while he was in private school.

The student claimed that he "experienced substantial phycological and behavioral distress" on the first day of school "due to the relentless bulling and harassment about his medical condition by the same perpetrators who had harassed him in private school and were then attending Manasquan High School."

Despite their finding that the student had been the victim of two harassment, intimidation and bullying incidents, school officials allegedly "took no action to minimize [the boy's] contact with those classmates or to prevent harassment, intimidation and/or bullying from taking place.

The student and his parent claim that the bullying was so severe that the boy had to withdraw from Manasquan High School in October 2014 and complete his high school education in several schools, some of which charged tuition.  According to the suit, the boy continued to suffer emotional issues as a result of the bullying as of March 2016, when the lawsuit was filed.

Before releasing the lawsuit and settlement agreement,  Manasquan School District's records custodian, Tara Hudson, redacted the boy's and his parents' names from both documents. But, if one looks up the docket number on the New Jersey Superior Court's Civil Case Public Access System, the full names of both parents and the student are available.

The case bears New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. MON-L-1675-15 and the family's attorney was Teresa L. Moore of Morristown.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of the family's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. All that is known for sure is that the Manasquan school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the family $75,000 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, June 3, 2018

Raritan Township paid out $200,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On May 3, 2017, Raritan Township (Hunterdon County) agreed to pay $200,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a Florida man who said police attacked him after he drove to the scene where officers had pulled over and harassed his daughter.

In his lawsuit, Dennis Shuman claimed that on August 5, 2012, after he came to the scene of his daugther Alexa's traffic stop, Officer David Carson "threw him with great force against the hood of his patrol car" when Shuman tried to call the police chief about Raritan Police allegedly harassing and intimidating Alexa.  He said that Carson then "threw him to the ground and continued to beat and attack him" while other officers joined in or failed to intervene.  Shuman claimed that he was falsely arrested for Obstruction of the Administration of Justice and Resisting Arrest and that Chief Glenn Tabasko and Lieutenant Nicklas Buck conducted an Internal Affairs investigation into the matter that was "a sham and a farce."

Shuman claimed that he came to his daughter's aid because she had been continuously harassed and intimidated by Officers Carson and Aaron Roth.  He said that between June and August 2012, Carson, Roth and other Raritan officers would "make U-turns and follow Alexa Shuman without stopping her and that on six occasions the officers "passed the driveway of Alexa Shuman's home with flashing lights and sirens activated after which they were deactivated."  He said that officers would pull over his daughter for offenses including making a "too quick right turn," "touch[ing] the white line" and "turning without the appropriate turn signal."

According to the lawsuit, one of the traffic stops resulted in a drug possession arrest of one of Alexa's companions.  According to an August 10, 2014 Courier News article on the matter, Alexa, two months prior to the August 2012 stop, "was charged twice in one week for possession of marijuana under 50 grams."  The Courier News article contains a video of the traffic stop and the altercation between officers and Shuman.

Shuman said that after his daughter called him from the scene of the August 5, 2012 traffic stop he "travelled by car several minutes to the scene" because he was concerned for his daughter's safety.  Upon arrival, he started crossing the street to speak with Carson when the officer ordered him back to his car because was "in an active roadway."  Shuman claimed that when he "began to obey and was walking back across the street" he was at the same time calling Chief Tabasko on his cell phone.  It was at this point that Carson allegedly grabbed Shuman by the arm and threw him against the hood of the patrol car and then to the ground while shouting "stop resisting!"  When Alexa exited her car to aid her father, Carson reportedly told her to "get back in the car or you're next."  A short while later, Roth and Sergeant Scott Lessig arrived at the scene and pinned Shuman to the ground.

Shuman said that Lessig applied the handcuffs too tightly and refused to loosen them, causing injury. He also said that his encounter with police caused several tears in the left retina, a chipped fracture of the left elbow and nerve damage to his left hand and arm.

Shuman said that on the advice of his attorney he pled guilty to the obstruction charge in municipal court but obtained a "civil reservation" that prevented the civil court from using his plea against him.

The lawsuit is is captioned Shuman v. Raritan Township, et al, Federal Case No. 3:14-cv-03658 and Shuman's attorney is 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 by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Raritan or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Shuman $200,000 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.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

NJ Department of Corrections appeals $1.6 million whistleblower verdict.

On January 12, 2018, the New Jersey Department of Corrections (NJDOC) filed a Notice of Appeal contesting a  $1,630,423.02 judgment that was entered against the agency in favor of a former NJDOC administrator who a jury found had been retaliated against for engaging in protected whistleblower activities.  According to Camden County Superior Court Judge Anthony M. Pugliese's December 15, 2017 Order, the $1,630,423.02 total award is broken down as follows: $1,022.840.00 in damages, $8,020.07 in pre-judgment interest, $530,832.05 in attorney fees and $68,730.94 in costs.  According to the jury's October 6, 2017 verdict sheet, the $1,022.840 in damages was further broken down into $692,500 for "emotional distress" and $330,340.00 in "economic loss."

The plaintiff in the matter is Meg Yatauro who began her employment with the NJDOC in April 1984 and later served as Administrator of the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center (ADTC) and the Albert C. Wagner Youth Correctional Facility (Wagner).

In her lawsuit, Yatauro said that her problems at the NJDOC started when a search team, headed by Deputy Commissioner Mark Farsi, performed a routine search of the ADTC and found a pair of children's scissors in an inmate's cell.  According to Yatauro, the discovery of the scissors led to her being asked by Commissioner Gary M. Lanigan at an October 11, 2011 Challenge Historical Assumptions and Nobly Generate Efficiencies (CHANGE) meeting how the inmate came to possess the scissors.  Yatauro explained that the NJDOC had instituted a "Hobby Program" and that possession of the scissors by inmates was allowed by that program.

According to Yatauro's suit, Lanigan was "astonished to learn of the existence of the 'Hobby Program'" and ordered that hundreds of scissors be confiscated from all ADTC inmates.  On November 3, 2011, despite Yatauro's assurances that all of the scissors had been confiscated, NJDOC officials sent a search team into ADTC to search for any scissors that may not have been confiscated.  This search resulted in about two dozen inmate complaints of verbal and physical abuse.  Specifically, four inmates complained that they were ordered to stand naked up against one another so that one inmate's penis would be touching the next inmate's buttocks" and that corrections officers called them "fags."

Yatauro said that she found the complaints "credible" and forwarded them to Special Investigations Division (SID) for investigation.  She claimed that, Erica Madden, one of the SID investigators, only interviewed one of the four inmates who complained and refused to interview the other three because she didn't want to work overtime.  Yatauro said that she reported Madden's refusal to SID Chief Kevin Bolden who said that he wouldn't authorize overtime unless "the inmates' eyes were hanging out of their sockets."  After receiving about a hundred complaints from inmates about the search, Yatauro said that she took her complaint up the chain of command.  She said that she was surprised when, during a meeting about Yatauro's request for investigation, Deputy Commissioner Mark Farsi threatened her by telling her that Madden would not be working overtime and if "anything comes out of this investigation, it will be on you."  In a subsequent conversation with Divisions of Operations Director Michelle Ricci, Yatauro claimed that she was told she would be held accountable if the SID investigation revealed any wrongdoing regarding the search.

Yatauro claimed that she suffered retaliation for pushing for the investigation.  She claimed that Farsi told her that if she ever spoke to Commissioner Lanigan again, he would "bite off her fingers."  She also said that Madden screamed at her in January 2012 and that her complaints about Madden's tirade were not satisfactorily addressed.  She said that she objected when Bolden told her the SID would investigate the Madden incident because "it had been widely rumored that Madden was romantically involved with Bolden."  In a subsequent meeting with Bolden, Yatauro claimed that he told her he was "very angry with her for pursuing the complaint against Madden."  The lawsuit alleged that Madden filed complaints against Yatauro for racially discriminating against her because she (Madden) was black.

In June 2012, Yatauro said that she was transferred to Wagner--the "worst jail" which was widely known as "the rat hole" by NJDOC employees.  She said that the transfer was a calculated attempt by NJDOC officials to make "her employment so intolerable that she would be forced to resign."  She said that the Wagner facility was very filthy due to years of neglect and that she bought cleaning supplies and developed a plan to clean it up.  She claimed that Lanigan toured the Wagner facility in August 2012 and was "furious with her" about the filthy conditions at Wagner even though those conditions had existed for years prior to her transfer.

In another incident, Yatauro said that Bolden went outside the chain of command when he had Adrian Ellison, an SID investigator at Wagner, purchase some sage green paint for his office even though his request for the paint had already been denied by Ricci.  Yatauro confronted Ellison, according to the lawsuit, and told him that "she knew what they did was against the rules."  Later, Ellison was assigned to investigate an anonymous letter claiming that tools were being stolen at Wagner and that employees were doing personal tasks during work hours.  According to Yatauro, Ellison's main focus was not to determine the truth of the anonymous letter's allegations but rather to find out who wrote it.  According to the suit, Ellison attempted to have Sergeant Richard Nappa, who Ellison believed was the letter's author, criminally prosecuted for having written the letter. Yatauro claimed that Ricci rebuffed her complaints about the manner in which Ellison conducted the investigation.

In still another alleged incident, Yatauro said that she received a complaint that Ellison had visited a Wagner sergeant's wife's place of employment--a nail salon--and asked her for the sergeant's work schedule while Ellison was having his nails done.  The sergeant's wife allegedly reported that Ellison's actions were "creepy" and made her feel uncomfortable.  She said that her complaints to NJDOC officials regarding Ellison's conduct at the nail salon were disregarded but that her persistence in pursing the complaint as well as "additional complaints of sexual harassment that had come to light" ultimately resulted in Ellison being disciplined.  According to the lawsuit, Bolden, who allegedly belonged to the same Masonic Lodge as Ellison, was "displeased" that Ellison was disciplined.

In December 2012, Christopher Holmes, who Yatauro said has "a close personal relationship" with Bolden, became her direct supervisor.  Holmes allegedly undermined Yatauro during meetings and "required her to constantly re-write reports" when the same demands were not made of other NJDOC administrators.

Yatauro's lawsuit lists many more allegations that are not recounted here.  In sum she claimed that the retaliation she suffered culminated in her May 16, 2013 demotion from Administrator to Executive Assistant that resulted in an $26,000 salary reduction.  She said that she was assigned to perform the duties of a file clerk which she found "not only extremely demeaning but a complete waste of [her] talents and abilities."  She said that the intolerable working conditions forced her to retire on March 1, 2014.

According to an August 1, 2017 court filing, defendants Judith Lang and Christopher Holmes were dismissed from the lawsuit.

The trial court case was captioned Meg Yatauro v. Kevin Bolden, et al, Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-1901-14 and Yatauro's' attorney is Heidi R. Weintraub of Cherry Hill.  The matter is currently pending before the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Pleasantville Board of Education paid out $185,000 to resolve whistleblower claim.

On November 9, 2017, the Pleasantville Board of Education (Atlantic County) agreed to pay $185,000 to a former employee who said that she was improperly fired after reporting employees who were being paid "for doing no work."

In her lawsuit, Dawn Rice-Bivens, who started working for the school district full time in 2006, said that she notified former Superintendent Garnell Bailey in April 2012 that employees in the district's "Beat the Streets Program" were being paid "for doing no work" and that an employee of the district's Combining Academics Recreation and Enrichment (CARE) program called out of work and took five students and one other staff member to the beach.  Rice-Bivens claimed that Bailey initially wanted the CARE employee fired but changed her mind after learning that the employee "was a close friend of a District board member."

She claimed that she was called into Bailey's office in November 2012 where Bailey allegedly told her that she would be recommending that Rice-Bivens be fired because she was "a thief" who "embezzled from the District."  Rice-Bivens claimed that the Board of Education rejected Bailey's termination proposal at its December 12, 2014 only to have its decision reversed two days later by State Monitor James Riehman.  She claimed that when she saw Bailey at a May 2013 school board meeting, Bailey told her: "I have the last laugh, don't I Dawn."

According to a November 17, 2015 Press of Atlantic City article titled "Two charged two years after Pleasantville schools audit," the Attorney General's office filed charges against Rice-Bivens in August 2015 for an alleged $2,104 theft from the District.  There is no other article regarding the disposition of the charges and a search of the on-line Promis/Gavel database shows no convictions for Rice-Bivens.

The case is captioned Rice-Bivens v. Pleasantville Board of Education, et al, Superior Court Docket No. ATL-L-6802-13 and Rice-Bivens' attorney was Robert P. Merenich of Linwood.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of Rice-Bivens' 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 Pleasantville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Rice-Bivens $185,000 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.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Robbinsville paid out another $200,000 to settle final lawsuit arising out of police sergeant's "psychotic episode."

A Robbinsville Township (Mercer County) police sergeant's 2012 "psychotic episode" has so far resulted in the Township paying a $117,500 settlement to the cop who had the episode and a $100,000 settlement to a disabled couple's caretaker who claimed to have been injured during the episode.  At its May 10, 2018 meeting, the Township Council approved another $200,000 settlement to be paid to the disabled couple and their minor child who also claimed to have been injured by the sergeant.

A complete background on this matter is set forth in a March 3, 2018 article on this blog.  To summarize, Robbinsville Police Sergeant Mark Lee had a "psychotic episode" on September 17, 2012 during which he reportedly took his clothes off in a Township apartment and violently attacked a couple, who were both confined to wheelchairs, the couple's caretaker and their minor child.  On March 18, 2016, Robbinsville paid Lee $117,500 to settle his lawsuit in which he claimed that Township officials failed to accommodate a disability--calcium deposits on his brain--that caused him to suffer the "psychotic episode" that led to the assault.  On January 11, 2018, Robbinsville paid $100,000 to settle caretaker Bashemah Rountree's lawsuit that claimed that Lee threw her against a wall when she tried to protect the child from harm. 

In the settlement approved on May 10, 2018, Robbinsville agreed to pay $130,000 to the couple's child and $70,000 to the couple themselves for injuries they reportedly suffered as a result of Lee's actions.  The couple and their then 4-year-old child are identified in court papers by their initials but the husband/father has been identified in previous news stories by his full name.

The couple and child's lawsuit is is captioned N.S. and S.S as guardian for J.S. v. Township of Robbinsville, et al, Mercer County Superior Court Docket No. MER-L-1988-14 and their attorneys were Clifford D. Bidlingmaier, III and Robin Kay Lord both of Trenton.  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 by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Robbinsville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the couple and their child $200,00 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, April 26, 2018

Buena Vista paid out $25,000 to former DPW Director. The settlement extinguished the Director's sexual harassment complaint without mentioning it.

On February 13, 2017, the Township of Buena Vista (Atlantic County) entered into a settlement agreement under which its Public Works Director received $25,000.  Even though the settlement agreement recites a "restructuring" that eliminated the the full-time DPW Director position, it also extinguished (but does not mention) a civil rights claim in which the DPW Director accused the Township Administrator of sexual harassment.

In his administrative complaint filed with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, former DPW Director Richard P. Calareso claimed that Township Administrator Kenia Nunez-Acuna "made unwelcomed direct physical contact with him" on December 30, 2016.  According to the complaint, Nunez-Acuna "asked him for hug at least seven times" and "chased after him and put her arm under his arm to make it appear as if the two were walking arm in arm."  Calaruso also claimed that Nunez-Acuna "forcibly pushed her breast against [him] three times."

The case is captioned Calareso v. Township of Buena Vista, Civil Rights Docket No. EA05UB-663054 and Calareso's attorney was the Law Offices of Jacobs & Barbone of Atlantic City.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of the the complaint's allegations have been proven or disproven in before any tribunal. 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 Buena Vista or its insurer, for whatever reason, paid Calareso $25,000. Perhaps the defendants' decision was done to save further legal expense and the costs of contesting what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the Township wanted to avoid being embarrassed at a hearing. This is the problem when cases resolve before they are adjudicated--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Sussex Sheriff pays out $95,000 to female lawyer who said that jail guard "wanded" her between her legs.

On March 21, 2018, the Sussex County Sheriff's Office paid $95,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a Hackettstown lawyer who claimed that a Sheriff's Officer improperly placed a metal detecting wand between her legs when she was entering the Keogh-Dwyer Correctional Facility in Newton to visit a client. 

In her lawsuit, Bonita B. Bourke claimed that as a lawyer she routinely goes through security at correctional facilities and courthouses.  But, when she and a male intern entered the Newton faciility on August 20, 2014, Officer Sean Long allegedly departed from what she was accustomed to and moved his wand "upward under her skirt, lifting [her] skirt."  Despite her protests, she claimed that Long used his wand on her again by placing it between her legs and telling her to "spread your legs."  She claimed she became upset but was wanded a third time.

Bourke claimed that Long apologized to her as she was leaving the facility.  She alleged that the incident caused her to become "anxious and disoriented" and that she "vomited on the side of the road" while driving back to her office.

The case is captioned Bourke v. County of Sussex, et al, Sussex County Superior Court Docket No. SSX-L-664-14 and the Bourke's attorney was John F. McDonnell of Washington.  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 by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that Sussex County or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that they would rather pay Bourke $95,000 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.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Stratford quietly paid out $125,000 to settle DPW worker's sexual harassment lawsuit.

On December, 8, 2017, Stratford Borough (Camden County) agreed to pay $125,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by former Department of Public Works employee who claimed that the former Borough Clerk would grab his rear end, ask him whether he was wearing a thong and say "Hubba hubba hubba."

In his lawsuit, Andrew Marano claimed that former Borough Clerk John Keenan had been sexually harassing him and other employees "for years."  Marano's lawsuit, which was filed on April 22, 2016, claimed that Keenan would repeatedly comment on "how tan he was," rub his shoulders and back while they were in Borough Hall and sometimes "grab or rub Marano's rear end." 

According to the lawsuit, Keenan, who reportedly oversaw the DPW, asked Marano who was soaked after putting up a clock in the rain, to "take his jeans off and wear a yellow thong for the rest of the day."  According to Marano, Keenan "frequently made it known that he was homosexual" and "would text Marano while he was on vacation and ask Marano if he was 'at the nude beach' [and] to take pictures for him."

Marano claimed that Stratford had no meaningful sexual harassment policy and that "Keenan would frequently hire people to whom he was sexually attracted, even if they were not qualified or otherwise prohibited from working for Stratford."  Marano's lawsuit alleged that one of Keenan's favored hirees "would work during the summer with just a vest, without a shirt underneath" and said that "If I blow him [Keenan], he'll get me a motorcycle."  According to the lawsuit, the hiree soon ended up owning a motorcycle shop.  Marano claimed that Keenan's sexual harassment compelled him to go on a leave of absence and ultimately lose his job.

Marano's suit also claims that Keenan retaliated against him after he complained that Keenan allegedly stole "hundreds of pounds of metal from Stratford."

The lawsuit is is captioned Andrew Marano v. Borough of Stratford, et al, Docket No. CAM-L-1577-16 and Marano's attorney is Leo B. Dubler III of Mount Laurel.  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 Stratford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Marano $125,000 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.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Pennsauken quietly paid out $770,000 in 2006 to settle female police officer's sexual harassment and retaliation lawsuit.

I normally do not post settlements of cases that are this old, but the size of the settlement, the nature of the allegations and the fact that the alleged sexual harasser has since been promoted to Police Captain and still serves in that position cause me to make an exception.

Pennsauken Police Officer Susan D. Holtz filed her sexual harassment civil lawsuit on June 4, 2003.  Holtz, who was hired as a patrol officer in 1990, said that she was "a very close friend of" Michael Probasco, who was then a patrolman, until she met her husband, Larry Holtz.  According to Holtz, her decision to cut off all personal interaction with Probasco so that she could "devote her entire romantic attention" to Larry Holtz "enraged Probasco" and resulted in Probasco spreading lies about her in order to sabotage her relationship with Larry.

After Probasco was promoted to sergeant, Holtz claimed that he used his position of command to try to get back into her personal life.  Holtz said that when she rebuffed him, Probasco retaliated by telling other officers that Holtz was a "bad cop" that should be avoided.  Holtz claimed that Probasco once came into the woman's locker room when she was wearing only a t-shirt and underwear.  She claimed that Probasco unzipped his pants to expose his erect penis and told her "I want you to suck this!"  Holtz related another incident when Probasco allegedly stared at her crotch while she was walking and told her "I can see the outline of your lips in those pants." 

According to Holtz's complaint, Probasco's harassment started in April 1994 and she felt uncomfortable in his presence through to her filing of the complaint.  She said that she was hesitant to report Probasco's "grotesque sexual advances" to upper management out of fear of retaliation because Police Chief John Coffey and Probasco "were best of friends."

Holtz's civil complaint contains many other allegations, only some of which are recounted here:

1. Probasco and other officers engaged in "outrageous fraud" by clocking in and the leaving their posts resulting in them getting paid for time that they did not work. 

2. After being interviewed by the Camden County Prosecutor's Office, which Holtz characterized as a "waste of her time" because the the questions "were phrased in a way as to hopefully solicit answers favorable to Probasco," her personal car was "'keyed' down to the metal on the driver's side."

3. Chief Coffey intervened in a matter in which the girlfriend of a Pennsauken officer had been arrested in Cherry Hill for buying drugs while driving the officer's car.  The officer's handgun was allegedly in the car at the time of her arrest.  Holtz alleged that Coffey's intervention caused the charges against the officer's girlfriend to be dismissed.

4. Coffey and Probasco allegedly wrote traffic tickets but destroy all the copies except for the one given to the municipal court.  This would cause those cited to have arrest warrants issued against them when they did not show up for court.

5. Holtz claimed that Probasco, after becoming a sergeant, began a relationship with a married Pennsauken police dispatcher who was later hired as a police officer.  Holtz claimed the dispatcher/officer, due to her sexual relationship with Probasco, received preferential treatment.

According to a March 8, 2018 letter from the Township Clerk, Probasco was hired on April 19, 1982 and presently serves as Police Captain earning $145,424 per year.

Holtz's lawsuit is is captioned Susan Holtz v. John Coffey, et al, Camden County Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-3284-03 and Holtz's attorney was Clifford Van Syoc of Cherry Hill.  Case documents are on-line here. Of the $770,000 settlement, Holtz received $520,000 and Van Syoc received $250,000.

Probasco was named in another lawsuit filed in 2004 by another female officer named Karen Denelsbeck.  Denelsbeck claimed that Probasco, who was then a lieutenant, made inappropriate comments regarding her pregnancy and repeatedly pestered her to go on dates with him.  Denelsbeck, who was married to a Evesham officer, said that sexually suggestive remarks made by Probasco caused her to be "embarrassed, upset and scared."  Her lawsuit, captioned, Karen Denelsbeck v. Michael Probasco, et al, Camden County Superior Court Docket No. CAM-L-715-04 settled in 2005 for $36,750.  Denelsbeck's attorney was Anthony F. DiMento of Cherry Hill. Case documents are on-line here.

Both settlement agreements contain confidentiality clauses which prevent the parties to the suit from disclosing the settlement 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 either lawsuits' 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 Pennsauken or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Holtz and Denelsbeck than take the matters 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.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Robbinsville quietly paid $100,000 to settle one claim arising out of cop's "psychotic episode" and is negotiating settlement of another.

At its January 11, 2018 meeting, the Robbinsville Township (Mercer County) Council approved a confidential $100,000 settlement to resolve a lawsuit filed by an in-home caregiver who said that a Township police sergeant "disrobed in [her clients'] apartment" and "began a violent and unprovoked attack" upon her, the disabled couple for whom she was working and the couple's four-year-old son.  The couple, who are both confined to wheelchairs, filed a separate lawsuit which, according to a March 1, 2018 e-mail from Robbinsville Municipal Clerk Michele Seigfried, has been resolved by a settlement agreement that is still in draft form and cannot be released.

The caregiver who filed suit is Bashemah Rountree and the accused police sergeant is Mark Lee who was, at the time of the September 17, 2012 incident, an 18-year veteran of the Robbinsville Police Department.  According to media reports, Lee allegedly broke into Rountree's clients' apartment, ripped off his clothes, knocked the disabled female client out of her wheelchair and assaulted the couple's child.  In her lawsuit, Rountree claimed that Lee threw her against a wall when she tried to protect the child from harm.  Another news source reported that Lee, after being taken into custody, kicked a window out of a police car and ran away only to be captured after a foot-chase.

According to a June 14, 2013 Times of Trenton article, aggravated assault, official misconduct and child endangerment charges against Lee were dropped conditioned upon Lee completing a three-year Pretrial Intervention (PTI) program.  As a further condition of being admitted to PTI, Lee had to forfeit his position as a police officer.

On May 18, 2016, Robbinsville paid $117,500 to settle a lawsuit filed by Lee that claimed that Township officials failed to accommodate a disability that caused him to suffer the "psychotic episode" that led to the assault.  Lee claimed that his conduct was the result of a physical disability which prosecutors reportedly said was calcium deposits on his brain.

$12,500 of the $117,500 settlement Robbinsville paid to Lee was held in escrow to pay toward settlements or judgments that the disabled couple, their child or Rountree sought from the Township.

Rountree's lawsuit is is captioned Rountree v. Township of Robbinsville, et al, Mercer County Superior Court Docket No. MER-L-1956-14 and Rountree's attorney was John G. Devlin of Lawrenceville.  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 Robbinsville or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Rountree $100,00 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, February 20, 2018

Elizabeth paid out $250,000 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On November 13, 2017, the City Council of City of Elizabeth (Union County) resolved to pay $250,000 to settle a 2015 lawsuit filed by a Philadelphia man who claimed that several police officers beat him and that one officer "pressed his foot down on [his] face pushing it into the pavement."

In his suit, Jerome Wright claimed that he was driving in Elizabeth on June 26, 2013 when officers Rui Xavier and Luis Figueiredo pulled him over for a traffic stop.  Wright said that Xavier ordered him out of his car at gunpoint and arrested him.  He claimed that when he "made the reasonable request to know shy he was being placed under arrest," Figueiredo applied a "sustained spray" of Pepper Spray to his face.  Even though Wright said that he was submissive and compliant with the officers' commands, Xavier and Figueiredo both shot him "again in the face with a sustained burst of Pepper Spray from both sides at the same time."  Figueiredo then allegedly took Wright to the ground where Xavier kicked him in the ribs.  Wright said that the two officers then took turns pinning him to the ground with their knees while Xavier beat him with a flashlight or a nightstick. 

According to the lawsuit, Lieutenant Robert Keily, Sergeant Michael Niewinski and officers Michael Carreto and Guido Quelopana arrived on-scene.  The lieutenant and sergeant allegedly did nothing to stop Xavier's and Figueiredo's actions while Carreto and Quelopana reportedly "sprinted to join" Xavier and Figueiredo in their attack upon Wright.  Quelopana allegedly "placed his knee on the back of [Wright's] head and pushed his full weight down on [Wright's] skull while [he] laid face-down on the pavement."   According to the lawsuit, Carreto "proceeded to drop his entire weight down through one knee on to [Wright's] lower back" while another kicked Wright in the face, while Wright was handcuffed, "and pressed his foot down on [Wright's] face pushing it into the pavement."

The officers allegedly fabricated a police report to show that Wright resisted arrest and tried to elude police.

The case is captioned Wright v. City of Elizabeth, et al, Federal Case No. 2:153-cv-04429 and Wright's attorney was Michael Orozco of Woodcliff Lake.  Case documents are on-line here

None of Wright'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 Wright $250,000 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.