Thursday, January 18, 2018

Lindenwold Borough confidentially paid out $9,300 to settle police excessive force lawsuit.

On October 4, 2017, the Borough of Lindenwold (Camden County) quietly paid $9,300 to a woman who said that police roughed her up, false arrested her and humiliated her by groping and exposing her genitals and breasts in a public parking lot.

In her lawsuit, Ramona Berry, who at the time was 50, said that on September 12, 2014 she rode with her daughter Aisha to the location where Lindenwold police had detained her other daughter for a traffic stop.  She said that she identified herself as the detainee's mother and asked police what was going on.  Berry claimed that Patrolman Sean Williams screamed that if she didn't get back into Aisha's car she would be arrested.  Berry said that Williams was screaming in her ear as she was trying to open the car door at the same time that Aisha was trying to unlock it.  She said that after she gave up trying to open the car door, Williams "slammed her fifty-year-old body and head into a parked car, bent her over the car, handcuffed her violently, dragged and pushed her to a police car, tossed her roughly into the back of a police car, and violently shoved [her] legs into the car." 

When Berry arrived at the police station, Williams, in the station's parking lot and in full view of other officers who were shining flashlights on her, allegedly pulled her clothes and undergarments away from her body and exposed her breasts and genitals to the other officers.  She claimed that Williams' search "was conducted for the purpose of sexually humiliating and intimidating" her.  She alleged that she was put in a jail cell where she used the toilet without having been advised that a security camera was recording her.

Berry claimed that she was charged with obstructing Williams' investigation and for "body checking" Williams in the parking lot outside of the police station. She alleged that both charges were dismissed when videos of the parking lot encounter and her use of the toilet were produced.

The case is captioned Berry, et al v. Lindenwold Borough, et al, Federal Case No. 3:15-cv-08043 and Berry's attorney was Derek A. Steenson of Philadelphia.  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 Lindenwold or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Berry $9,300 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, January 17, 2018

Middlesex County paid out $20,000 to settle lawsuit filed by estate of 25-year-old woman who hanged herself in county jail.

On September 2, 2017, the County of Middlesex agreed to pay $20,000 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the estate of a 25-year-old Colonia woman who hanged herself on August 5, 2013 while an inmate in the Middlesex County Adult Correctional Facility.

In its complaint, the estate of Ashley Shubiger said that jail officials failed to protect the woman even though they knew or should have known that Shubiger "was a high risk of suicide" who "required one on one constant supervision." 

The case is captioned Shubiger v. Middlesex County, et al, Middlesex County Superior Court Docket No. MID-L-4696-15 and Shubiger's estate's attorney was Dean R. Maglione of Newark.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of the estate'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 Middlesex or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay the estate $20,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases resolve before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.

Deptford Township and its MUA paid out $175,000 to settle former in-house lawyer's whistleblower lawsuit.

On October 30, 2016, Deptford Township (Gloucester County) and its Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) agreed to pay $175,000 to settle a contract lawyer's lawsuit that claimed she was retaliated against after reporting improper activities including misappropriated funds from a Township account  .

In her complaint, Maria DeTitto said that she entered into a written employment contract with the MUA under which she was to act as the MUA's In-House Counsel, Human Resources Director and Compliance Officer through 2016.  She claimed that she was required to perform legal and other services for Deptford Township even though her employment contract didn't permit additional duties to be assigned to her without her consent.  She claimed that she was given no guidance on how to fulfill the duties assigned to her and that her work product was shared with other attorneys "who would bill [Deptford Township] for work that [DeTitto] performed." 

While her complaint is difficult to understand, it appears that DeTitto claimed that she was fired from the Township in 2013 and from the MUA on October 6, 2014.  She claimed that her termination from the MUA was rescinded after she complained that it was done in a way that violated her employment contract.

DeTitto claimed that she was suspended for six weeks in 2014 and required to undergo a psychological examination prior to being reinstated.  She said that this was done in retaliation for her having complained that her termination was unlawful.  She said that after reinstatement, she found that money was missing from the Township's Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) account and that "the Township Solicitor improperly accepted funds from the COAH trust account for purposes that were not permitted." 

She further claimed that even though she was the Human Resources Director, she was not allowed to fire an employee who was "involved in a work-related sexual harassment matter" and that the Deptford Township Mayor instructed the MUA Executive Director to have the Township Solicitor handle the matter instead.  She said that the same employee was later involved in "an off-duty altercation" during which that employee brandished a gun.

Of the $175,000 settlement, DeTitto received $125,000 and her lawyer received $50,000.

The case is captioned DeTitto v. Deptford MUA, et al, Gloucester County Superior Court Docket No. GLO-L-1370-15 and DeTitto's attorney was Jacqueline M. Vigilante of Mullica Hill.  Case documents are on-line here.

None of DeTitto'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 Deptford or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay DeTitto $175,000 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, January 9, 2018

Howell Township confidentially paid out $350,000 to settle lawsuit filed by estate of man who died in police custody.

On November 6, 2017, the Township of Howell (Monmouth County) quietly agreed to pay $350,000 to the estate of man whose lawsuit claimed he died as a result of excessive force applied during a weekend-long music festival.

In her lawsuit, Theresa Taylor, the administratrix of the estate of Timothy J. Harden and Harden's sister, claimed that Harden was working as a volunteer for a September 3, 2015 music festival called the Souper Groove "where alcohol and drugs were available, open and obvious to the public, festival staff and/or security personnel."  During the event, Harden allegedly had a "medical and/or psychiatric episode" which resulted in Howell police being called and Harden being restrained by festival staff and security personnel "with excessive and unreasonable force."  Howell officers reportedly also applied excessive force to Harden "including choking him and fracturing his thyroid cartilage."  The lawsuit alleged that the actions and inactions of the festival staff and the Howell officers caused Harden's death.

Other than the Township and Howell Township Police Chief Andrew A. Kudriack, Jr., the Priedaine New Jersey Latvian Society, Souper Souper, LLP and the LLP's owners were named as defendants in the lawsuit.  The $350,000 payment releases only the Township defendants so there may have been additional sums paid by the private-party defendants.

The case is captioned Taylor, et al v. Howell Township, et al, Federal Case No. 3:15-cv-08043 and Taylor's attorney was Thomas J. Mallon of Freehold.  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 Howell or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Harden's estate $350,000 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, January 6, 2018

$25,000 quietly paid to settle excessive force lawsuit convicted drug offender filed against Vineland police.

On April 14, 2017, the City of Vineland (Cumberland County) agreed to pay $25,000 to an East Orange man who claimed that City police officers applied excessive force upon him on two separate occasions in 2011 and 2013.  The same man was sentenced, in accordance with a plea bargain, to two to five years in prison for drug possession and resisting arrest charges that arose out of the same two occasions.

In his lawsuit, Noel Jones said that on December 1, 2011, he was a passenger in a car stopped by Officers Gary Mollik and Jose Torres for having a defective tail light.  According to an April 1, 2016 decision by United States District Court Judge Noel L. Hillman, Jones claimed that while being patted down, he was threatened with physical violence by one of the officers and Mollik swung at him with an open hand causing him to "run in a circular direction in an attempt to alert neighbors as to what was unfolding because [Jones] feared for his safety due to Mollik’s unprovoked assault."  Torres then reportedly tackled Jones and placed him in a chokehold causing him to lose consciousness.  According to Jones' version of the account, as set forth in Judge Hillman's opinion, he was stuck and kicked by Mollik which caused him to be transported to a hospital where he was diagnosed with a fractured orbital bone and a fractured jaw.

The officers' account, also set forth in Judge Hillman's opinion, is vastly different.  According to Mollik's account, Jones was trying to escape when Mollik tackled him, severely injuring the officers' knee in the process.  While Mollik admitted to having struck Jones in the face three times and putting him in a headlock, he said that he needed to do so to gain control over Jones who was violently resisting arrest.  The officers said that Jones continued to resist arrest until officers threatened to release a K-9 on him.  The officers said that once arrested and inside the police vehicle, Jones tried to hide a bag containing heroin and cocaine in his waistband.

The second alleged instance of police brutality occurred on June 23, 2013 at the Vineland bus station. Jones claimed that he was getting off a bus when police surrounded him and accused him of dealing drugs.  He claimed that officers handcuffed him and slammed him to the ground, beat him and took him to headquarters where they "illegally strip searched" him and held him in custody for a day and a half.  According to police, however, Jones was observed speaking with a "middleman [who] routinely brokered transactions between drug dealers and drug buyers in exchange for free heroin."  When questioned by Officer Louis Platania, Jones said that his name was "Lee Jones."  According to Judge Hillman's decision, which set forth the police version of the incident, Platania recognized Jones and knew him to be a drug dealer who used the street name "Snowy."  The police claimed that they then tackled Jones, handcuffed him and found a digital scale in his pants pocket.  Jones reportedly had clenched his hand around an object and police had to strike his fingers with a baton to get him to open up his hand.  Once open, the police were able to retrieve what appears to have been a rock of crack cocaine.

On January 26, 2015, Jones pled guilty to some of the charges arising out of both arrests and was sentenced to two to five years in prison. 

On April 1, 2016, Judge Hillman dismissed the counts of Jones' civil lawsuit regarding the June 23, 2013 incident but refused to dismiss the excessive force and battery claims arising out of the December 1, 2011 arrest.

The case is captioned Jones v. City of Vineland, et al, Federal Case No. 1:13-cv-07132 and Jones' attorney was Paul R. Melletz of Cherry Hill. The complaint and settlement agreement are on-line here.

The settlement 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 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 Jones $25,000 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.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Somerset Vo-Tech confidentially paid out $110,000 to settle gay teacher's discrimination lawsuit.

On December 18, 2017, Somerset County Vocational Technical Board of Education President William Hyncik quietly signed off on an agreement to pay $110,000 to a former Spanish teacher who claimed that he was relentlessly harassed by students for being gay and that school officials did not take appropriate steps to abate the harassment.

In his suit, Kevin McManus, a tenured teacher who began working at the school in 2008, claimed that he "was subject to a hostile work environment" after a student disclosed McManus' sexual orientation to his Spanish class in May 2011.  Thereafter, other students, particularly two identified in the lawsuit by their initials S.L. and D.M., began taunting him with comments such as "don't choke on that d**k," "do you like nuts?" and "do you like fudge?"

McManus claimed that he reported all the harassment incidents to Jamie Morales, the school's disciplinary coordinator, who allegedly "did not take appropriate steps to stop it."  Instead, Morales reportedly "encouraged D.M. to 'keep doing what you're doing'" and to "document Mr. McManus' activity during class."

McManus claimed that he also complained to Principal Diane Ziegler and Affirmative Action Officer Teresa Morelli who also did not appropriately respond to the harassment.  According to the lawsuit, Ziegler wrote to McManus in October 2013 and stated that she had a "classroom management concern" regarding McManus and stated that "professional development in the area is encouraged."

After McManus filed a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, he claimed claimed that school officials retaliated against him.  McManus claimed that he was not allowed to use personal days to create long weekends and that he was denied paid leaves of absence due to medical conditions caused by the reported harassment.

He claimed that Superintendent Chrys Harttraft, who allegedly said that "she did not believe that [McManus] was 'homosexual' because 'he is not effeminate,'" demanded his resignation in March 2014.  McManus said that he did resign in November 2014.

According to the settlement agreement, McManus will receive $66,905.68 of the $110,000 while his lawyer will receive $43,094.32.

The case is captioned McManus v. Board of Education of the Somerset County Vocational & Technical Schools, et al, New Jersey Superior Court Docket No. SOM-L-314-15 and McManus' attorney was Andrew M. Moskowitz of Springfield. The civil complaint is on-line here and the settlement agreement is on-line here.

The settlement 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 McManus' allegations have been proven or disproven in court. All that is known for sure is that the school district or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay McManus $110,000 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.